Blog Archives: Barnaby Bennett

Keep Our Town Hall

This is a letter that was just sent to a group of people supporting the retention of the Christchurch Town Hall.

Dear Keep Our Town Hall supporters.

We have reached a critical point in the effort to stop the demolition of the Town Hall.  The Council is meeting on Thursday to make a decision, and this is likely to be the final one.  An extraordinary campaign is being run by The Press in favour of full (or partial) demolition.  I have counted around 14 articles as either editorials or opinion pieces in the last month arguing for the demolition.   The supporters of the Town Hall have not been able to get a single article to articulate the views in favour of it. We now face the very real possibility of losing the vote on Thursday.

With this in mind I ask that if you want your voice to be heard as part of the campaign, can you please take the opportunity to email the Councilors who are voting on the issue.    The email addresses for the 13 councilors and the Mayor are:

barry.corbett@ccc.govt.nz,

bob.parker@ccc.govt.nz,

claudia.reid@ccc.govt.nz,

glenn.livingstone@ccc.govt.nz,

helen.broughton@ccc.govt.nz,

jamie.gough@ccc.govt.nz,

jimmy.chen@ccc.govt.nz,

ngaire.button@ccc.govt.nz,

peter.beck@ccc.govt.nz,

sally.buck@ccc.govt.nz,

sue.wells@ccc.govt.nz,

tim.carter@ccc.govt.nz,

yani.johanson@ccc.govt.nz,

You can just copy and past all there addresses into one email. The vote is first thing Thursday morning, so I think the emails need to be sent either today or tomorrow so there is time for the Councillors to read them.   (please also bcc us: keepourtownhall@gmail.com)

Update

Recent articles about the Town Hall can be found here:

Ian Lochhead: http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/perspective/8823394/Symbol-of-great-innovation

Barnaby Bennett: http://info.scoop.co.nz/Barnaby_Bennett

Since we last emailed you in March the key development is that a large rebuild cost-sharing agreement between the local Christchurch City Council and the Government was signed in late June.   The result of these negotiations was that the development of Town Hall and Arts Precinct was handed over to the Council to continue (along with the Library and Stadium).

Initially this was greeted with some positivity by those working to protect the Town Hall as the Council has been consistent in it efforts to keep it, most notably in the unanimous decision last November.

The Council staff have been working on options for the full retention for the past 9 months and these were presented to the councilors at a workshop a few weeks ago.
The Council were to vote on this, but the campaign by the Press and some members of the business and arts community have been vociferously calling for a reconsideration of the decision to keep the Town Hall.  This is based on the legally questionable idea that the insurance money from the Town Hall can simply be transferred to a new arts precinct.  The Press is arguing for the complete demolition of the Town Hall and for all the funding to go towards a new arts centre on the south side of the river, and others are asking for the demolition of all but the auditorium, with the remaining $80 million (or less) to go to the new arts precinct.

Sir Miles Warren, Ian Lochhead and Barnaby Bennett presented to the  Council’s Community, Recreation, and Culture committee last week, and the committee recommended the full retention option to the full Council.  However the pressure has really turned up this week, so it is likely some Councillors will turn.

Our main points are:

  1. The Council has already consulted on this and there is widespread community support for the full retention.
  2. The Council itself has already unanimously voted in favour of full retention.
  3. It is a heritage one listed building and the Council would be breaking its own guidelines to vote in favour of even partial demolition.
  4. The money to repair, and upgrade, the building has already been budgeted and approved as part of the Councils Three year plan.
  5. There is now reasonable cost certainty over the price of the repairs, and the total includes fees and many large contingencies for unforeseen cost increases.
  6. The building is a civic building and so the idea of demolishing it to make way for an arts precinct is culturally questionable.
  7.  It is an internationally recognized, and gold medal award winning, building of great quality.  In the context of a city that has lost 80% of its down town buildings and over half of its heritage listed stock it would be an travesty to add this building to the rubbish heap.
  8. The cost includes a full upgrade to current fire, structural, and services standards.  The acoustic improvement of the James Hay is also included and some previous issues with accessibility.

Even if you have already written to us or the council in support it is important to remind them again. If you have the time please do write a few comments about why you think the Town Hall should not be demolished, this is a critical moment.

Thanks you for your contribution to saving this important and amazing building. We can hopefully come back with good news on friday!

Regards

Keep our Town Hall group

Sir Miles Warren

Maurice Mahoney

Dr. Ian Lochhead.

Duncan Craig

Dr. Jessical Hallliday

Barnaby Bennett

 

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Festival of Transitional Architecture 2013: Expressions of interest.

After the successful launch of Christchurch: The Transitional City at last years festival Freerange is beaming with joy to be again involved with this year’s Festival of Transitional Architecture (FESTA).  We are going to launch our Journal Freerange Vol.7: The Commons at the event!

Please put these dates in your calendar and book your tickets, the festival occurs over a packed long weekend and the programme is looking amazing.

FESTA has put a call out for Expressions of Interest to to involved with this years event.

Idea’s for project, performances, publications, or events due this Friday!

Expressions of Interest

We welcome expressions of interest from those wishing to present a transitional project or event during the Festival of Transitional Architecture (25-28 October 2013). 

The first and only festival of its kind in the world, the annual Festival of Transitional Architecture is a free, public event that engages with the city of Christchurch (New Zealand) by exploring urban regeneration through large scale collaborative projects and interventions.

We would love to hear what you could bring to transform Christchurch’s urban environment. To find out more about this opportunity, please download the Expressions of Interest document or contact info@festa.org.nz

Make sure you have a look at our updated website and the fantastic photos from last year’s headline event, LUXCITY: http://festa.org.nz/luxcity

 

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NZ Barn Owl Bird-of-the-Year Poster Brief

Freerange is supporting the annual Bird of the Year  competition which launches at the end of September and run by Forest and Bird New Zealand.

http://www.birdoftheyear.org.nz/

Our task is to get as many people as possible to vote for the bird that we are supporting: The New Zealand Barn Owl.

The NZ Barn Owl is New Zealand’s newest native bird.  It is not uncommon for the Barn Owl to make their way here occasionally, or to get blown over in storms from Australia, but it is only recently that a few pairs have started breeding.  Freerange supports the rights of immigrants so we say we should acknowledge and welcome our new feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic (warm-blooded), egg-laying, vertebrate avian friends.

It’d be rude not to, eh?

Barn_owl_darrelbirkett

Information about our little hero is here:

Forest and Bird.

Wingspan.

NZ Birds online.

Poster Competition.

As part of the general profile raising that we are tasked with for this project a poster is needed.

So this is a call out to ALL designers, (and non-designers) that Freerange is running a small competition to come up with the best poster to support our goal of getting the Barn Owl to be the favourite NZ bird of the year.

The winning entry will receive: $50 cold-hard cash, and a subscription to Freerange Journal.

Brief.

1. The brief is to design an a colour A3 poster.

2. It needs a a punchy one line sentence/tagline (no longer than 15 words) that sums up why people should vote for the Barn Owl.

3. Poster needs to be given to the Bird of the Year campaign on the 15th of September. So we are closing our competition on the 10th of September.

4. The poster needs to be 300 dpi and version in both CMYK and RBG as it will be both printed and used online.

5. This url needs to be on it: www.birdoftheyear.org.nz

6. email me and I’ll send you the photos of the BarnOwl Forest and Bird have given us, and the freerange logo.  (barnaby@projectfreerange.com)

Examples of previous posters are:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/33450140@N03/sets/72157631770313710/

Questions and Submissions to:

Barnaby@projectfreerange.com

BarnOwl_TonySutton

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Why a completely new Arts Precinct in Christchurch is a stupid idea.

The local newspaper the Press has recently published several articles (here, here, and here) arguing why it is in the best interests of the city to demolish the Town Hall and put the insurance money into a new arts precinct.  I think this is a very misinformed view that seems to be based almost entirely on information from press releases from the office of Gerry Brownlee.   I’d ask that if The Press is going to weigh in with a strong editorial position on the city, they should, at the least, do their homework.  This article argues the case against a new large arts precinct.

[I would like to compare the editorialising of the Press to a recent article in the NZ Herald  about the St. James building in Auckland. It consists of actual research, interviews, and factual information.]

In my view any decision to demolish the Christchurch Town Hall is more than likely to lead to a new development that will: A. take longer to build than it will to repair the current Town Hall, B. be more expensive, and C. be of a lower quality.

Before explaining these a little bit of background:

In the middle of 2012 the government launched its blueprint for the city, and one of the anchor projects in this blueprint was a new arts precinct.  This precinct was based on an assumption that the Town Hall was unrepairable, and that the $70 million dollars of insurance money from this should go to the new arts precinct.

In November last year the Christchurch City Council was asked to vote on whether they would pay for the full repair of the building which was estimated to be around $127 million dollars.   After some public discussion and lobbying by groups (including one I am part of) who argued for the unique heritage, arts, and civic values of the building, the council voted unanimously (!) to pay for the full repair.  The decision was based on overwhelming support for the retention of the building in the public submission for council city plan.

The Minister in charge of Earthquake Reconstruction, Gerry Brownlee, was obviously unhappy with the decision and said all sorts of half-truths to undermine the decision (which I have previously commented on here and here). In the large cost-sharing agreement between the council and CERA that was announced in July, the Town Hall and the Arts Precinct have been passed from CERA to the Council to develop (with ultimate approval from the Minister).

A short time after this cost sharing agreement the Council ran a full public meeting about the Town Hall and the Arts Precinct outlining the work they have been doing and their recommendations.   On Tuesday the 14th of August the plans and costings for the new recommendations were made public and presented to the elected councillors.  The recommendation is that the Christchurch Town Hall is fully repaired at a cost of around $127.5 million which includes large contingencies, and around $40 million to be spent on a new arts precinct to house space for the CSO, new Court Theatre, and the Christchurch Centre for Music.

Contrary to some commentary there has been very clear decision-making about this from the Councils position.  In November last year they voted, based on popular support and expert opinion, to keep the building. This year staff members and consultants have been working on: A. what needs repairing, B. what needs upgrading. C. how long it will take, and D. How much this will cost.

A ‘final’ vote will be made by council on the 29th of this August to pick which option to proceed with.

All this information can be downloaded here from the council. [full status of Christchurch Town Hall and Arts Precinct Projects]

I would like to make a note comparing the clarity and rigour of this process with the complete opacity of the other CERA led projects.  We don’t even know the brief for the other projects like the public river park, the convention centre, or the stadium.

To explain my claim that demolishing the Town Hall and replacing it with anew precinct will lead to a slower, more expensive, and lower quality outcome here is a better explanation:

Note: The following points are made on some assumption that if we are going to knock down a world-class building we need to replace it with something of equivalent quality.   I have based my comparison on recent world-class concert halls.  We currently have an internationally recognized venue (with full repair plan and money set aside to pay for it) so it’s fair to compare to the equivalent contemporary projects.  (I’d be interested to see any examples that provide counter arguments.)

A. The executive director of the CSO Richard Ballantyne was in the paper this week stating that the 4-year repair is too long and will affect the running of the CSO.   Does he really think a new arts precinct, for which the land is not even purchased and the brief isn’t even written yet will be ready in less than four years?   History doesn’t support him.

  • The Christchurch Town Hall itself was built on time and under budget and took 6 years from Warren and Mahoney winning the competition till opening.  It opened in 1972.
  • The Copenhagen Concert Hall is smaller than the Town Hall and took 6 years to construct.  (From start of construction, so doesn’t include the long design and pre-construction processes).  This building opened in 2009.
  • The Disney Concert Hall in L.A took 15 years to construct.   (The car-park alone cost $110 million and took 9 years!) The building was constructed between 1999 and 2003.
  • The Casa Da Musica in Lisbon by OMA took 6 years from the announcement of the winner of the design competition, and was opened in 2005.

These examples illustrate that it is naïve to think we can have a new world-class facility within four years. Especially when this is going to be happening in the middle the biggest building boom in NZ history.

B. $160 million dollars sounds like a lot of money.  It is a lot of money.  It really is a lot of money. $127.5 million to fix a building is a lot of money.  But the critical point that needs to be stressed here is that $160 million isn’t much for a world-class facility to be constructed (esp. in the middle of a construction boom). The costs for the buildings mentioned above are: Copenhagen Concert Hall (which is smaller than the Town Hall) was US$300 million dollars, the Disney Concert Hall was US$274 million, and the Casa Da Mucisa cost 500 milllion euros (the amount it went over budget was the total amount we would have to build a new building).   The idea that we can get a facility anywhere near the class of what we have already for this money is deeply questionable.  Demolishing a great building and then trying to quickly and cheaply get a new facility up and running is recipe for cultural ruin.

The CERA led campaign to demolish the Town Hall frequently states that the ground quality below the Town Hall is ‘the worst in the city’.  It did suffer from lateral spread and this has damaged the building.  However the proposed site of the new arts precinct is in worse condition and will be an expensive exercise to build there.  The engineers have come up with an injection method which will stabilise the ground and bring the building up to 100% of contemporary code.

C.   There is a commonly used project management rule of thumb that a project can be delivered quickly, cheaply, and to a high quality, but that you can only get one or two of these aspects, not all three.  The task of managing a project is to pick the most appropriate factors (after the quakes, speed was obviously the most important factor). Given the obvious need to get good quality venues into the city, speed is important, and given that we have only $160 million to spend on a building, budget is a problem.  This leaves the obvious conclusion that quality will be the first victim of this process.  Given that we have a quality building already in the city it seems obvious that demolishing an existing project is not wise.  (And that’s not even accounting for the important heritage and civic value of the building).

The Town Hall was innovative when it was built in 1972.  It is an exemplary building of a global architectural movement. The acoustics were the first of its kind and have been copied around the world.  It is an award winning, internationally recognized, and important building.  You might think it is ugly. That’s fine.  It has more international status than any other building in the country.   The new plans developed by the firm Warren and Mahoney, in conjunction with the original architects, upgrades the building to all new fire, services, and earthquake codes.  Problems such as the back stage entry and accessibility will be fixed with new extensions and interventions.  This is not just a repair but a major upgrade of the building. Buildings age and the demands on them change with time, so the opportunity to spend substantial sums adapting this building for another 50 or 100 years of use is a great one.  In my mind the question should not be whether we demolish and start again, but how to best adapt the Town Hall for future use.

It is easy to put up a nice argument and say we can have our old tired Town Hall or a new shiny arts precinct.   But its more accurate to say we can have a repaired, refurbished, modernized Town Hall that we know is a world class facility, or we can take a huge risk of hoping for some design and construction miracle to deliver something quickly with little money of the same quality.

The whole mantra of this reconstruction is that we are building for future generations, and this means we have to be prudent and wise with our decisions and not make big risky gambles.

Note: My last comment would be that we should now turn our attention to making sure the smaller $40 million dollar arts precinct fulfills its potential.   We need to make sure that it is a public facility that supports the arts across the whole city. I worry that it is becoming home to a few large organisations and won’t support a wider accessibility to arts. The brief for this new centre is based off an audit done by CCDU in secret that is not publically available.  So we are making $40 million dollar decisions on information citizens can’t access. It’s crazy.

The CCDU have actually done a bit of a dirty job with the arts precinct, and given them a bit of land south of the river between Gloucester and Armagh to use for this project.  The land north of Armagh would have been much better in my opinion. It would have had north facing river frontage, be next to Victoria Square, which will be something of a cultural centre, and would be next to the Town Hall.  Again, this is the type of strange decision-making happening in this city. Major urban planning decisions being made by an organisation with no public accountability.

Perhaps the Press should be concentrating on the radical lack of public input into urban planning in this city rather than lobbying for the demolition of our cultural heritage?

Recommendations:

  1. We need a proper audit of the arts needs of the city to see what the city needs and how the council can best assist that with facilities.
  2. The function of James Hay theatre should be reviewed and perhaps requires a radically different design that offers more variety and easy reconfiguration.
  3. The CCC should be lobbying CERA to get the piece of land next to the river so the arts precinct can be close to the Town Hall and designed around the river.
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Boycott the Russian Olympics

Copied below is an open letter written by Stephen Fry to the British Prime Minister.   The same letter deserves to be written to the leaders of all countries attending the Russian Olympics.  Please read it for it is an extraordinary piece of writing that explains an issue that deserves utmost attention. 

Dear Prime Minister, M Rogge, Lord Coe and Members of the International Olympic Committee,

I write in the earnest hope that all those with a love of sport and the Olympic spirit will consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, two years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth. In his case he banned Jews from academic tenure or public office, he made sure that the police turned a blind eye to any beatings, thefts or humiliations afflicted on them, he burned and banned books written by them. He claimed they “polluted” the purity and tradition of what it was to be German, that they were a threat to the state, to the children and the future of the Reich. He blamed them simultaneously for the mutually exclusive crimes of Communism and for the controlling of international capital and banks. He blamed them for ruining the culture with their liberalism and difference. The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad. It gave him confidence. All historians are agreed on that. What he did with that confidence we all know.

Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians. Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police. Any defence or sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law. Any statement, for example, that Tchaikovsky was gay and that his art and life reflects this sexuality and are an inspiration to other gay artists would be punishable by imprisonment. It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village. The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma. Let us not forget that Olympic events used not only to be athletic, they used to include cultural competitions. Let us realise that in fact, sport is cultural. It does not exist in a bubble outside society or politics. The idea that sport and politics don’t connect is worse than disingenuous, worse than stupid. It is wickedly, wilfully wrong. Everyone knows politics interconnects with everything for “politics” is simply the Greek for “to do with the people”.

An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillehammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.

He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it. I know whereof I speak. I have visited Russia, stood up to the political deputy who introduced the first of these laws, in his city of St Petersburg. I looked into the face of the man and, on camera, tried to reason with him, counter him, make him understand what he was doing. All I saw reflected back at me was what Hannah Arendt called, so memorably, “the banality of evil.” A stupid man, but like so many tyrants, one with an instinct of how to exploit a disaffected people by finding scapegoats. Putin may not be quite as oafish and stupid as Deputy Milanov but his instincts are the same. He may claim that the “values” of Russia are not the “values” of the West, but this is absolutely in opposition to Peter the Great’s philosophy, and against the hopes of millions of Russians, those not in the grip of that toxic mix of shaven headed thuggery and bigoted religion, those who are agonised by the rolling back of democracy and the formation of a new autocracy in the motherland that has suffered so much (and whose music, literature and drama, incidentally I love so passionately).

I am gay. I am a Jew. My mother lost over a dozen of her family to Hitler’s anti-Semitism. Every time in Russia (and it is constantly) a gay teenager is forced into suicide, a lesbian “correctively” raped, gay men and women beaten to death by neo-Nazi thugs while the Russian police stand idly by, the world is diminished and I for one, weep anew at seeing history repeat itself.

“All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” so wrote Edmund Burke. Are you, the men and women of the IOC going to be those “good” who allow evil to triumph?

The Summer Olympics of 2012 were one of the most glorious moments of my life and the life of my country. For there to be a Russian Winter Olympics would stain the movement forever and wipe away any of that glory. The Five Rings would finally be forever smeared, besmirched and ruined in the eyes of the civilised world.

I am begging you to resist the pressures of pragmatism, of money, of the oily cowardice of diplomats and to stand up resolutely and proudly for humanity the world over, as your movement is pledged to do. Wave your Olympic flag with pride as we gay men and women wave our Rainbow flag with pride. Be brave enough to live up to the oaths and protocols of your movement, which I remind you of verbatim below.

Rule four: Cooperate with the competent public or private organisations and authorities in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace.

Rule six: Act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement.

Rule 15: Encourage and support initiatives blending sport with culture and education.

I especially appeal to you, Prime Minister, a man for whom I have the utmost respect. As the leader of a party I have for almost all of my life opposed and instinctively disliked, you showed a determined, passionate and clearly honest commitment to LGBT rights and helped push gay marriage through both houses of our parliament in the teeth of vehement opposition from so many of your own side. For that I will always admire you, whatever other differences may lie between us. In the end I believe you know when a thing is wrong or right. Please act on that instinct now.

Yours in desperate hope for humanity

Stephen Fry

This post first appeared on www.stephenfry.com

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Why we love pirates

This is an inspiring talk by school teacher Kester Brewin that we wish we’d written. Please watch it.

“We need a new community of pirates. Men and women committed to defending the commons and standing up to the excesses of enclosed wealth. So put down your ipads and put on your eye patches and let us work to enlarge that stage of the commons upon which we must all play our part.”

 

 

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This isn’t about the Christchurch Town Hall.

Well, obviously it is. But I suggest that the recent reemergence of the future of the Christchurch Town Hall in public conversation isn’t about the Town Hall.   There is a short and a long explanation to this:

Short Explanation.

There is no real doubt about the future of the Town Hall. The Christchurch City Council owns it.  They know pretty much it is going to cost to:

A. Repair the damage,

B. Mitigate against future quakes by fixing the land, and

C. Bring it up to current building codes.

It is not especially cheap to do this. But it is costed, and budgeted, and the council is diligently working toward this after the Councilors voted unanimously for this last November.   It’ll open sometime in 2017.  It is a crucial building in the life of the city, it is one of the nations most significant pieces of architecture, and internationally it is widely recognized as one of the great acoustic spaces. If you don’t believe this read some of the testimonials here from architects, musicians and acousticians:

‘The interior of the main hall is an acoustic wonder.’

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, Professor of Fine Arts

‘It might not be too far-fetched to assert that, assuming the conductor knows his business, the hall acoustic afforded by the Lilburn Auditorium is little short of miraculous.’

Sir William Southgate

‘If demolished, it is unlikely to be replaced with a new building which possess the same qualities: architects of Miles Warren’s calibre are few and far between.’

Letter signed by Tony Van Raat signed on behalf of 20 architecture staff and 127 students at Unitec in Auckland.

 ‘Buildings are at one level physical artefacts, at another they are the repositories of our memories, places of celebration and commiseration, and the stage for life. The Town hall is exemplary in every respect and an inspiration to the whole of New Zealand and beyond. It is perhaps though as a symbol of renewal that it could be even more important now than it ever has been before. The opportunity to for it to be that awaits your decision. The like of it will not be seen again.’

Patrick Clifford, Past Pesident New Zealand Institute of Architects

 ‘I firmly believe that Christchurch Town Hall is of such architectural and cultural significance that every effort should be made to ensure its survival. It is perhaps one of only a few works of architecture in New Zealand that have had an influence on other buildings around the world, its acoustics much appreciated by famous international musicians.’

Barry Bergdoll, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design.

This is the short answer.  In principle that should be the end of the story.

Long Explanation.

But as we are living in a post-earthquake city with extraordinary complex planning and rebuild decisions to be made, of course it is not this simple.  If only. With the short explanation in mind you may well be asking yourself: If the decision to keep the Town Hall has been made, why is the minister in charge of rebuild, Gerry Brownlee writing in the media that it should be demolished?  It is a good question!

To answer this we need to step back a few steps and look at the broader context of the government city plan and the current negotiations about who is going to pay for which bit of it.

As you all know in the months after the February 2011 quake the Christchurch City Council was asked to develop a draft city plan. To do this they did some very broad (over 100,000 people were involved) and not very deep citizen engagement. Which is exactly what they should have done at that point. Exemplary and award winning.  A plan was developed, which was to some extent based on the work done before the quake with Danish firm Jan Gehl Architects. (an extremely highly regarded firm internationally who have worked in New York, Melbourne, London, Copenhagen and many others). This plan was put out for public feedback, revised and submitted to minister Brownlee for consideration.  For around 5 months over the summer of 2011/2012 there was silence about this plan as the Minister considered it. Around March 2012 the Minister largely rejected the plan and to set up his own group of design experts, we have no knowledge what led to the decision (but plenty of rumour). These experts included lots of local and some international figures. They were are professional and well regarded bunch who were given 100 days to work together with other government agencies and some members of the Christchurch City Council to come up with a new revised plan.  So far, so good. A bit strange rejecting the first plan, but we all know here that we are all making this up as we go along, so change is ok.

100 days later our prime minister comes to town, launches the new city plan, expensive videos for international investors are shown, the bubbly flows, everyone looks smug and all the property owners and business leaders smile.

The new city plan has a lot of lovely things in it.  A new big stadium, a convention centre four times the size of the old one, a new city library, a justice precinct, a new hospital, a sports centre, a new river park, a performing arts precinct, (remember this one) and lots lots more. Seventeen Anchor projects in total. There are a couple of things to note here:

Firstly, all these projects were put in the plan because the government had decided they should be in there, not because the 100-day plan came up with them. The 100 days was basically an exercise in placing these projects in the best place possible, not an exercise in working out what the city needs.  While saying that some new projects were introduced in the process such as the important east and south frames.

Secondly, the Minister may claim that the Share an Idea campaign and the previous council plan informed the new design, and he may claim that this constitutes public consultation.  In some respects he might be right, but we have to take his word for it as the entire process has been secret.  I don’t like taking ministers’ words on things.  Perhaps he could answer: What methodology did you use to sift through 100,000 ideas and turn it into a workable framework?  Did you check to see if the resulting framework was true to the ideas of the community?

As this process was happening there was, as with many hundreds of other buildings in the city, some concern about the damage to the Town Hall, and a lack of good information about it.  The council had a due process to slowly go through its building stock and do proper engineering reports. Which in regards to the Town Hall are available here.

The damage assessment by Holmes Consulting Group in August 2011 says:

‘In general terms, the building has been relatively undamaged by the shaking’ and that ‘the Town Hall has not sustained damage that would be considered substantial,’ and,

‘In summary, we do not consider the damage resulting from the earthquake to pose a significant structural hazard in relation to the occupation of the building.’

http://resources.ccc.govt.nz/files/canterburyearthquake/Engineering-reports-amistadium-townhall-convcentre/106355.01DetailedStructuralAssessment-Qualitative110808.pdf

Ok, so the building is ok, but what about the land? The geotech report states:

‘Once excess pore water pressures from the 22 February 2011 and 13 June 2011 earthquakes and aftershocks have dissipated, it is likely that the strength of the soil underlying the buildings will return to the pre-earthquake levels.’

http://resources.ccc.govt.nz/files/canterburyearthquake/Engineering-reports-amistadium-townhall-convcentre/110808-TownHallGeotechPreliminaryreporCCCBriefing.pdf

Additionally the original acoustic firm Marshall Day have had a preliminary look at the auditorium and commented in a report that: there is no visible damage to the auditoriums acoustic fabric”.

If I can risk paraphrasing these two reports on the structure and the ground I’d say:

1. The building performed well in the quakes, it is sound and stable.

2. However it has settled unevenly, so the floor level is not even through the whole complex.

3. The building needs to be brought up to contemporary building codes.

4. The land is prone to liquefaction and lateral spread, so while the building is in good condition it may again become uneven in events in the future.

5. There are a number of ways to mitigate this which are been explored.

These reports were published in August 2011 and to the best of my knowledge there has been no major change.

So it was with some surprise when the new city plan was launched with a complete  absence of the Town Hall.  In the visual document a green lawn has replaced the Town Hall. The only mention of the Town Hall in the document is in the section about the Performing Arts Precinct which is:

 ‘proposed to offer facilities for music and the performing arts, and to act as a catalyst for recovery. The precinct will embrace different sites and will support co-location of organisations as far as is possible.’ Then there is a very important sentence that says:  ‘The precinct designation will be sufficient to provide for a range of facilities in the event that the Town Hall cannot be repaired.’ (All this can be found online here: http://ccdu.govt.nz/sites/ccdu.govt.nz/files/documents/christchurch-central-recovery-plan.pdf)

This is a strange comment that assumes the building isn’t repairable, and only makes contingency for this scenario.  There is no mention of what happens if the Town Hall is repairable.

A FAQ on the CCDU website reiterates this position here and says:

‘Why is the Town Hall not shown on the Blueprint Plan? There are still some decisions to be made as to whether all or parts of the Town Hall can be repaired by CCC. If it is not able to be repaired, a performing arts centre containing two auditoria of 500 and 1500 seats respectively will be built in the Performing Arts Precinct as shown on the Blueprint Plan.’

Keep the key words ‘If it is not able to be repaired’ in mind.

Another side story, for reasons unknown to me the Council was underinsured on a number of buildings including the Town Hall and instead of insurance covering the $129 million dollar bill, only $70 million is coming from insurance.

The next part of this story is that Bob Parker asked the council staff to look at demolishing everything in the building apart from the auditorium (which is recognized as the most significant feature of the building). I don’t know where Bob got this idea from.  The council staff ordered heritage, and architecture reports to be made in response to this.  In general the feedback from experts was that this partial demolition makes no sense and the building was designed as a complex so needs to stay that way. Strangely the Council staff ignored this commentary and advised the Councillors to adopt the ‘destroy everything but the auditorium’ strategy.  The Councillors on this committee rejected partial retention recommendations and put this recommendation to the full council.

At this point Minister Brownlee seemed to get very frustrated and vented his anger at the decision to keep the building in a number of media. Including this interview with Mike Yardley.  I responded by rebutting his points in this article on the 19th of November http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/AK1211/S00510/response-to-brownlee-on-christchurch-town-hall.htm

A few weeks later the full council voted unanimously to support the full retention of the Town Hall, and it was put in their budget to pay for it.  Remember the phrase, if it is not able to be repaired.  Well it is able to be repaired, and the CCC will pay for it.  The CCDU blueprint is part of the recovery plan and this is a legal document so while Mr Brownlee has extraordinary emergency powers powers he can not break due process and if he did try to over-rule the council there is good chances he would be  challenged under judicial review. Hopefully we don’t have to find out.

So the next question is: If we have an amazing building, of great value, that is repairable then why does the minister still want to demolish it? Again, another good question.  When I say this isn’t really about the Town Hall it is because it is the $70 million of insurance money that is really at stake here, and this comes back to a very hard ball negotiation happening between the CCC and the government at the moment.

In the first draft plan by the CCC the community was consulted on what they wanted and they proposed a number of buildings at certain sizes. The sizes of the buildings were also the scale (both in a business and urban sense) that the council staff thought was appropriate for Christchurch.  The new government-led blueprint, bravely or foolhardily, upscaled the convention centre and the stadium significantly and added other projects.  They have fronted for some of this money, and the council has too, but there is apparently (again its all secret so what would I know) a gap between the two.  The CCC has the advantage because they have the moral authority to argue for the smaller versions and it is also prudent of them not to end up having to maintain large expensive items like Stadiums and Convention centres.  The government has however bet the bank on the BIG blueprint and don’t want to lose control now. Negotiations continue. (announced next week!) Now some would suggest that Minister Brownlee’s quite verbose media presence in regards to the Town Hall and the consenting problems in the last week is less about those actual issues and more about putting pressure on the councilors during negotiations.

There is a report from Council staff to the councilors due in the next few weeks which outlines more precise costs and plans for the Town Hall. I don’t think any of us can really comment this until it this is made public. We will know more then.

I would like us to not get caught up in the framing that Minister Brownlee is making of this.  It is only the CCDU that has set up this weird choice that either we have a Town Hall or an Arts Precinct.  Or as he puts it, ‘You can either have your old broken run down past it used by date Town Hall, or you can have a new state of the art shiny fantastic arts precinct.’  To which I’d reply ‘You can keep your world renowned Town Hall that has served the city so proudly for the past forty years and has some of the best acoustics in the world or you can have an uncosted sketch of an idea with no details, no business case, or no idea of the desired quality.’

The 100-day plan came out almost a year ago, and at the time I wrote that it looked ok but that more details were needed to really understand it.  Almost 300 days later and we still don’t know what is planned for the convention centre, stadium, arts precinct, or any of the anchor projects.  It’s extraordinary. So we are meant to support the demolition of one the most important buildings in the country without any knowledge of what might replace it? Because that is what the minister is asking us. Really this is what he expects us to do.

Now I completely accept that some arts and cultural groups in Christchurch might be really excited about the new arts precinct.  I respect that.  But until we get some idea of what the government is actually proposing this is a false argument.  As a guide though there is a rule of thumb that very high quality auditorium spaces as we have with the Town Hall cost around $20,000 per seat. That puts the Town Hall at around $300 million dollars.  A similar building (based on the acoustic design of our town hall) in Paris has reached almost half a billion.  Now, do you really think that the government is seriously looking at that sort of money an arts precinct.  And if not why would we not spend $50 million to protect the town hall we already have.

Some suggest (Link to article on rebuilding Christchurch) that the $70 million is needed to not only help get the arts precinct going but a business plan is also linking this into the convention centre too. So in a twisted way the construction of the CCDU’s big convention centre is based on the need to demolish our best live arts space.  I don’t know if there is any accuracy to this, because, you guessed it, the whole process is being done in secret.

The other thing to mention is that the proposal is for the demolition of an Town Hall and replacement with an performing arts centre. Town Hall’s are fundamentally civic in nature and performing art is about well, performing arts. If we keep the Town Hall we get both, if we demolish it we lose the civic aspect.  When people say ‘we need a new Town Hall’ they misunderstand that this isn’t what is proposed.  In fact we don’t even know who would own the new one, or who would run it.

The most frustrating thing about this is that this public battle now means that the government and the council aren’t talking to each other and the plans to keep the Town Hall are not being considered as part of the city rebuild.  What we really need is:

A. Some information about what we need as a city, what can we actually support.

B. More information from both the CCC and CCDU about what their plans are for the Town Hall and performing arts area.

C. A short and in depth consultation with the relevant parties to see what great and creative solution we can come up with.

It’s completely irresponsible to talk about demolition when all the options aren’t even on the table yet.  This is banana republic stuff.

Call me naïve, but why can’t we just have all the information in front of us and have a serious grown up conversation about what to do. I suspect we still might be able to come up with a plan that means we all win.

How about a smaller and more flexible arts precinct, keep the Town Hall, fix up the auditorium, re-invent the James Hay, and have all this facing into the victoria Square with the new Ngai Tahu cultural centre. Can someone in power explain to me why this can’t work?

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Things fall apart

It’s easy to be relentlessly negative in the face of complex things. The difficult is easy to caste as the fault of incompetence, and in reality sometimes things are just really really hard.  Yet, this same thought is too often used as a mask for poor process, poor decision making, and poor consultation.  I’m going to tell two stories today, one positive, the other negative, and in my view the key hinge that makes one story hopeful and one depressing is the amount of openness there is to the processes.  We’ve had long enough in Christchurch to learn some lessons about how to do things here, and two years on from a disaster we are stupid if we don’t learn from the inevitable failures and mistakes.

Firstly, the good news. Congratulations to all the teams behind the two competitions in the Christchurch CBD: the Council and CERA lead breathe competition, and the community-led Peterborough Village competition.  The results from these competitions can be seen here and here.  It’s hard to summarise such a diversity of entries, but I can say looking across the entries it is for me the first time I’ve felt some real excitement and hope about the type of city that might emerge in the future here. We see in these entries a real willingness to learn from the planning and building mistakes of the past 5o years with project full of exciting ideas that are environmentally progressive, affordable, and liveable.   Importantly the entries are diverse and come from around the world.   Critical to the outpouring of good work in these projects is the process of competition, a tradition long practiced in Europe for public projects.   Competitions work: firstly, because information about the projects has to be made public, this creates an openness and transparency about the schemes, land use is known, budgets are known, so that both the public, and the relevant experts (and the critical overlap of both) are able to  mull over ideas, critique them, and get used to how things might change.  The second important point is that there is not just competition between firms, but competition of ideas.  Alternatives can be compared, contrasted, weighed up and considered, again by both experts (as judges) and the community.   All this constitutes a recovery of not just the built environment but a sense of participation and involvement with the people that live in these places.   I’ve been harsh on some of the retro-modernism that is been planned for the city and the lack of talent in some of the big design firms in Christchurch. But here in these competitions we see the importance and designers and their role in formulating new ideas into built form, and crystallising peoples wishes into space and form.

The light shining from these competitions could not contrast more with the dark shadows falling over the secretive government-led inner-city planning being led by the CCDU, and CERA; which is essentially planning by cabinet and treasury.   Now, this next passage is written with the pre-condition that most of the comment about CERA is based on 2nd hand reports. But when you have a secretive government agency that won’t do any public engagement then rumours is all you’ve got to work with, and its a small place, rumours tend to be accurate here.  The idea what we can’t make public conversation because they don’t want it is to fall hook line and sinker for the political management running the program.

The points being though that we have some MAJOR projects being proposed in Christchurch. It is now two years after the major event, and nine months since the launch of the large government led-blue print and essentially the public has been told nothing of these projects, and has had no input into them.    The arts precinct, the convention centre, the stadium, and the frame are huge projects in which the business cases have not been made public yet, the design process has no public involvement. The word from behind the iron curtain is that there is a huge fight happening amongst the major property owners about the retail section that will replace the container mall, with one major owner refusing to show their schemes to CERA and proceeding directly with the council, and others are breaking up promised land sharing deals.   All this while smaller land owners with schemes ready to go are being told to give up on their land. Apparently the convention centre remains unknown as to whether it makes any financial sense, and the british team designing the Avon Otakaro scheme is struggling to work in a foreign city with extraordinary time pressures and no ability for public consultation.

Over two years on now 80% of the city is flat and empty, they are still months away from re-opening the centre of the city.  Does it tell you anything that the only significant rebuilding happening so far is in the areas the government has the least to do with?   And this is from an agency that set itself up with a authoritarian mandate, and with a planning logic that was dominant in the 1950s that wildly out of kilter with global best practice today, that was aiming to get things done quickly.   I really think CERA are their own worst enemies. The fortress mentality is ruining their relationship with the people they are supposed to be working for.  The Avon Otakaro scheme is a perfect example.  What is to lose from  making a public a sketch design and getting feedback on it?  Asking the public for specific information and feedback, with a couple of public workshops and some online tools with the council and CERA and other s are getting quite good at you could easily get some really useful feedback on how people use the area, what they want, and what they like and don’t like about a scheme.  This could be done in a couple of weeks relatively cheaply, seems reasonable for a public space $100 million project.  It’s certainly normal, and would give the designers much needed feedback on their design.  I just don’t get it.

I think it’s time for the government to have a cup of tea with the people of Christchurch, and re-think the way they are running this whole thing.  I just talked to someone from CERA today who was claiming that everything they do is for the people of Christchurch.  And hence lies the problem, they should be working WITH the people of Christchurch, not FOR us.   It’s pretty simple and with the amazing online tools these days its actually quite easy to do.   Oh and more competitions!

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Expressions of interest open for FR7: Something about ‘the commons’

Submissions are open for Freerange Vol.7.
Submissions Due 1 April 2013

Working Title: ‘The Commons’

Freerange Vol.7 is being edited by Jessie Moss, Joe Cederwall and Tim Gregory.

This edition will aim to explore the issue of “The Commons” from many different angles, perspectives, disciplines and media. The concept of ‘the commons’ has particular relevance in light of the multiple crises we face for the environmental, financial and social future of our planet. We want this edition to be an exploration of how the commons are actually being utilised and engaged by communities in reality in today’s transforming society. We want to get down to the nitty gritty of the concept and look at workable commons models both past and future. It will be a celebration and exploration of this transformative vision as applied in practice all around us.

A succinct definition of ‘the commons’ is elusive, but the following is as good an attempt as any by commons academic David Bollier:

‘The commons is….

  • A social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and community identity.
  • A self-organized system by which communities manage resources (both depletable and and replenishable) with minimal or no reliance on the Market or State.
  • The wealth that we inherit or create together and must pass on, undiminished or enhanced, to our children.  Our collective wealth includes the gifts of nature, civic infrastructure, cultural works and traditions, and knowledge.
  • A sector of the economy (and life!) that generates value in ways that are often taken for granted – and often jeopardized by the Market-State.’

Full article

The concept is very broad and has relevance to topics as diverse as Architecture and design / Art and culture / Intellectual property / The open internet / Community control / Sustainability and environment / Resilience / Politics / Gender / History / Town planning / History / Architecture / Anthropology / Sociology & Psychology / Intellectual property / Indigenous culture / The local food movement / Academia / Science.

We are happy to work with contributors to find or refine a topic to suit the overall blend.
Please email Expression of Interest in submissions by Monday 1st of April

Expressions of Interest should be max. one A4 page with an explanation of what you’d like to write about, and any relevant experience writing or working in the topic before.

Please email: commons@projectfreerange.com

Further suggested reading for inspiration:

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Minister Brownlee, that’s not right and you know it…

I am part of a group of people working to convince the Christchurch City Council, and other relevant authorities, that it is essential to keep the Christchurch Town Hall.   This group includes Architectural Historians Ian Lochhead, Jessical Halliday, and Architects Maurice Mahoney, and Sir Miles Warren.

This post does not necessarily represent their views.  But it does represent mine.

The Christchurch Town Hall  is one of a small handful of great buildings that this country has, it has  world-class acoustic qualities, and is widely loved by both the Christchurch public, and expert users.  It was damaged in the 22nd Feb earthquake, however the damage is repairable, and the CCC had voted for the full retention of the Town Hall in their city plan earlier this year, and as owners of the building had taken responsibility to pay for the repair and upgrades.  Since then the large government led CCDU plan has been put into full force of law. This plan had a large empty space on the site where the town hall presently is, with words to the effect that the future of this site and surrounding activities depended on the CCC final decision on the Town Hall.   The Executive Director of the CCDU responded to an email some months ago saying that the final decision for the Town Hall rests with the Council.   The culture and heritage committee voted unanimously 2 weeks ago to recommend to the council for the full retention of the Town Hall.  A small but significant victory.  The full council meeting is on the 22nd of November.

We have up till now being confident that the decision for the Town Hall rests with the CCC, and the CCDU document, and the comments by Warwick Isaacs would support this. It is then dismaying to hear, Minister Brownlee refusing to rule out that he may over-ride the council decision.  A letter we received from him a few day ago had the ominous sentence.  “I await the Council’s final decision with interest.” 

The Minister was interviewed by Mike Yardley on newstalkZB yesterday (the bit about the Town Hall is near the end) and features a number of remarkably misleading comments from the Minister which I will detail here.

Minister: “I get frankly annoyed by some of the characterisation of the damage to the Town Hall, and when I hear people saying ‘it’s got the best acoustics in the world’ I’ve got to say it used to but when you’ve got the floor so badly disrupted, when you’ve got walls that are out of line etc  and other damage to that, they are not the same as they used to be.” 

Mr Brownlee, this is why the council has budgeted to repair the building.  It is called a repair because we understand that things need to happen to the building to make it perform again.  As it turns out the original acoustic engineers have done a preliminary study of the auditorium and stated “The good news is that, on the basis of todays brief visit at least, there is no visible damage to the auditoriums acoustic fabric”.  So Mr Brownlee, you are either being misleading or you are talking about something from a position of authority when you haven’t read the reports about it.

Minister: “So I’d say this to the councillors, why not have an open day? Why not open the doors and say to people that you can come in here have a look around and make an assessment for yourself.”

Um, what?  Is the Minister in charge of  reconstruction really suggesting that public should have open access to a building inside the redzone?  This is the redzone that has been controlled by the army that has shut down the cbd for two years for the purpose of public safety.  Is the Minister really suggesting that the public should be doing structural assessments of large and complex buildings?  The Minister has a lot of faith in the public’s structural knowledge, considering this is the same minister who is overseeing a decade long multi billion dollar city rebuild with no public engagement or consultation processes.   The same question could be asked of the CERA and CCDU’s offices, if there is nothing to hide, why not let the public come in and do an assessment of the work they are doing, let them see the sketch plans, business cases, and a detailed account of all the meetings that are happening with no public knowledge.

Minister: ” It’s not a nice prospect, but it is a very badly damaged building” 

There have been extensive engineering reports done on this building, and all support the idea that it is repairable. The Council has already approved the funding for the full retention of the building earlier this year, and is meeting at the end of this month re-consider this.  If the Minister has information the public or the council doesn’t have he should pass it on, if not then he should stop mis-leading people with amateur hour engineering descriptions.

Interviewer: “Can I come back to my initial question, if the full Council ratifies the committees decision to go ahead with the full repair on November 22 at the next meeting will CERA respect that decision, or will they over-ride it?” 

Minister: “Well, in the end, its not part of the CBD plan, its a site that had a question over the top of it, so then what we would need to do is say that the Council has said they can contribute about $800 million to anchor projects over a period of years. Clearly a massive chunk of that money will go on the Town Hall, so soemthing else goes.”

The current estimates for the Town Hall suggest it will cost around $120 million to repair, and that the insurance money will cover around $80 million of that money.   As the $800 million is over several years, so the Town Hall repair could be staged.   $40 million of $800 million is 5% of that total amount. 5% does not seem like massive chunk of that to me.  Remembering that this in the context of a city that is planning a $450 million dollar stadium, that spent $30 million dollars on a temporary sports facility.  $40 million seems pretty reasonable to me if it means the Town Hall is around for another 100 years.

Minister: “So you are unpicking what I think has been a very well put together plan that 106,000 residents of this city put their ideas on.” 

Can we please stop the false and mis-leading suggestion that the public were involved in the creation of the CCDU plan.  They were not.  The public provided a large, visionary and quite vague set of ideas to the Christchurch City Council  around 15 months ago as part of their Share an Idea campaign.  The council plan that emerged from this quick fire participatory process had one draft with public feedback and then was submitted to the Minister for review.  The  minister rejected most of the council plan and created a new task force that had 100 days to draw a new plan.  This 100 days did not involve any participation with the public, the 100 days since the announcement of the plan did not involve any participation with the public.  At a public meeting I asked Don Miskell, now the head designer of the plan, if there was any intention to have consultation processes in the huge multi-billion dollar scheme and replied no.  I asked the same question about whether there would be any international peer review and the same answer was no.   People within CERA understand that there was no consultation. So please stop condescending the public by saying there has been.   The public consultation by the council about the Town Hall is quite the opposite from your version of the story.  The public submissions around the about the the Town Hall were overwhelmingly in favour of the full retention.  This notion that the CCDU plan has any sort of moral authority over this city is delusional. It has legal authority because it is in place because of an act of parliament, but not moral authority.

This case is just one of a series of examples in Christchurch where the structure of governance has become confused to the point where us as members of the public, and as relevant experts in our fields that are relevant to this building, are unable to participate meaninfully in this discussions around it.  The fact that the Minister in  charge of the reconstruction, who has extraordinary powers, is been either misleading, or is ignorant about important information he publicly discussing, is dismaying.  It illustrates quite clearly why this much power should never be hidden so entirely from the public spotlight.

 

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