Category | Christchurch

Proposals for a Resilient City: Christchurch Design Ideas Competition

Design ideas are sought for Christchurch, that address any or all of the following concerns:

Regeneration:
Activating regeneration of the built and social fabric of the city, building social capital, encouraging economic activity.

Memory:
Recognising the earthquake sequence and its effects as a part of Christchurch’s future history and identity. Proposals for Christchurch’s future may different to a business-as-usual approach, due to the unique situation of the post-earthquake environment and the collective experience of its people.

Resilience :
Enhanced resilience of buildings, urban fabric, and communities. Resilience against future natural disasters, providing social benefit through resilient communities; and as a leading example for other cities in NZ and around the world to follow.

The designs may be addressed from the perspective of a range of disciplines, including but not limited to: Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design, Engineering, Social science, and Event and Performance Design. They may be at any scale, and the site(s) must be in Christchurch City or its suburbs.

Documentation of real world projects under way are also acceptable as entries.

Entry requirements and conditions:

1. Entries are required to be single A1 landscape format. Digital and paper versions are required. Digital versions can be pdf or jpeg, sent by email or file transfer. 10MB max file size. 150dpi maximum recommended resolution.
2. Entries should be predominantly visual, and contain no more than 150 words of paragraph text.
3. Entries due by 4pm Wednesday 11th April 2012.
4. Open entry, group entries accepted.
5. Winner and runner up determined by a panel of four expert judges. Entries will be judged anonymously, and will subsequently be displayed with entrants name, location and affiliation.
6. Prize money $1000 winner, $500 runner-up. Special honorary commendations may also be made.
7. Entries will be judged according to how the proposal convincingly addresses one or all of the stated concerns of Regeneration, Memory, and Resilience.
8. Entries will be displayed at the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering Conference, Canterbury University, Christchurch. 13-15th April 2012; and published online. Entries may also be displayed at other additional locations following the conference.
9. Paper entries are unable to be returned.
10. Copyright remains with the author of the work, and the organiser has the right to display and publish the entries, crediting the named authors of the work.

To register contact luke.allen@gmx.com providing your name(s) and email address, location (town), and any affiliation you would like to state. You will be assigned an entry number to be displayed on the work, and given the address to send paper entries to.

This information is also contained in the competition website http://conference.nzsee.org.nz/designcomp.htm

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5 creative ideas to save Christchurch

1.  5 days paid leave, (or bonus pay), for all Christchurch residents.

Its been a long hard year for people living in Christchurch: the city is physically damaged and the people emotionally drained from a year of shaking and uncertainty.  Put simply, the people there need and deserve a good break.  As the insurance industry delays and reconstruction and planning are pushed further  back the city is also in desperate need of economic stimulus.  I can’t think of a better time for a clever use of tax payer stimulus than now by giving ALL Christchurch residents 3-bonus days of public holiday to be used by the end of the year.  An early Christmas present.   People can take the chance to go for a drive, visit relatives, go out for nice meal, a bike ride, skiing.  Whatever floats their boat.   I haven’t costed it, but it couldn’t cost less than $10 millon and almost all the money would go directly into the Christchurch economy.

2. International Paintball Championships in the Redzone.

What are three of the main things Christchurch needs now?

Money to start rebuilding,

entertainment to keep people there sane, and

international exposure so people and capital return to the city.

In the spirit of this stunning and quite moving youtube video of skaters using the broken streetscapes of Christchurch, I propose that a large-scale reality tv Paint ball championships be run in Christchurch before it opens in 2012.  Paint ball is water based so will dissolve in the rain.  All the dangerous buildings have almost being demolished, the rest of the buildings to go are economic demolitions not structural ones so safety should’t be a concern.  Perhaps we should take all the SAS and special forces forces out of Afghanistan and let them have a Special Olympic style battle to see which is best.  Give them a building each and see who is left after 3 weeks?!

3. Eastern land swap

Eastern parts of Christchurch have been badly damaged by the earthquakes and large areas around the river of it are ‘redzoned’, meaning there are thousands of people who need to sell their houses to the government and move elsewhere.   A great idea that I heard from Christchurch Architect, David Hill, is to swap some of the parks and golf courses in the east with this damaged land.   Its a fantastic interventionist idea, but only works if the government gets active and onto it.  The opportunity is there to create new neighbourhoods of well designed, well serviced, ‘green’ housing that enables people to live in, or close to the existing communities. While also getting some much needed stimulus into the economy and getting the trades and professions going.  All it takes is some politicians with some vision… now where were they?

4. Bikes, Bikes, Bikes.

Not a particularly creative one, but this needs repeating again and again. Bikes are the cheap solution to lots of Christchurch’s future problems. Even with the advantage of a massive capital injection and a fresh start, the reality is that Christchurch is the wrong shape and layout to ever have a comprehensive public transport system.  It can have a handy and modern bus system with clever and well designed tickets to make it easy to use, but is never going to have frequent trips to all parts of the city.  It has grown around the expansiveness of the motorcar and will remain locked to its logic.  Fortunately there is a much better way to get around flat wide cities with grid layouts than the car. Bikes!  They are cheap, they last longer than cars, roads can fit thousands of them, its easier to park them,  they keep people fit, they are cheap and choice!   The rebuild is the perfect time to make the roads bike friendly and provide extensive bike infrastructure around the city. Cheap bikes to hire, bike paths on most roads, bike paths along the rivers, bike stands, places for workshops, safe storage, etc etc.  Weather shouldn’t be a big problem, look at how they do it in Amsterdam and Copenhagen.  10% of one of the stupid holiday highways being built out of Auckland could fund this for decades.  (The image below is Christchurch in 1937!)

5. Move the World Cup Cloud to Christchurch.

1 +1 should equal 2. Over the next 1-5 years Christchurch is going to be in desperate need of high quality temporary structures to house the civic and commercial activities of the city while the rebuild gains momentum.  In about 30 days Auckland will be left with a large unused high quality government owned structure.  Move it to Christchurch. Simple.

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Christchurch, Lewis Mumford and 21st Century Enlightenment.

The video below by Urbanist and Architect Lewis Mumford illustrates some strikingly accurate observations on how we should manage our cities.  The planners and politicians in control of the Christchurch at the moment would do themselves a favour to watch it.

(Hat tip to Freeranger Minna Ninova for the video)

People sometimes ask what Freerange is all about.  What is it?  Why do we do it?  I usual answer with some vague statement about cities, politics, design and the need to think ethically about how to act in this strange world.  The beautiful illustrated video below for the RSA series explains it better than I ever could.  Brilliant stuff.

(Hat tip to freerange Nick Sargent for the suggested viewing)

 

 

 

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Chur Chur now for sale!

Churchur is now for sale!  Only $NZ10 plus postage.

Click here: Freerange Shop.

All proceeds to Architecture for Humanity project in Christchurch.

On the 22nd February 2011 the people of Christchurch experienced  the most destructive earthquake in New Zealand’s young recorded  history. It was the third large earthquake to hit the region in the past six months, the first being a 7.1 earthquake on the 4th September 2010. 182 people have died, thousands are homeless, scores of buildings have been destroyed, and the central city is still closed to the public. This special issue of Freerange is a window into the experiences of some who are affected.

“Many people are still homeless and jobless, and some have lost loved ones. I can get my head around the physical damage that Christchurch has sustained, but the emotional I find hard to understand.  I wish I could assure my friends that it will be over soon… but it won’t. I can’t relate to their trauma and shock, to the stress they are living in, and I can’t share their burden of a life so changed by one event. But I can listen to their stories and I hope that helps. That is what this special edition of Freerange is about. Let’s listen, it’s the least we can do.”

Gina Moss

“It’s helpful to tell our stories and that’s mine. I have life and limb and all my loved ones but the emptiness reminds me  that I’m human and I need love and support. I know I have  that in big measure. Whether we’ve lost a little or a lot the  reality is that for each one of us in Christchurch that day,  life has changed forever. I will never be the same again.  I don’t say that in an airy fairy way, I just know that my heart has been broken in a way I can’t explain and it has affected me at a very basic level.”

Madeleine Peacock.

 

 

 

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A Capitalist Disaster: The Disaster Capitalism complex at work in Christchurch

American writer and activist Naomi Klein coined the phrase “disaster capitalism” in the wake of the Bush Administration’s response to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. This term became mainstream when her book ‘The Shock Doctrine’ was published in 2007 and went on to become a No.1 best seller and later a feature length documentary. However, far from the accepted media view of an incompetent Government response, Klein’s theory is that this was merely an example of a growing worldwide trend involving the highly competent and undemocratic transfer of Public wealth and resources to private hands in post-disaster situations. It is hard to read this book without immediately drawing parallels with the current situation in Christchurch where a lack of real democracy and public debate around the reconstruction effort is apparent. However, as Klein thankfully points out in the final chapter of her worrying book there are alternatives to this top-down Neo-liberal economics approach to reconstruction which involve democracy through community level initiatives and participation in the process.

Disaster Capitalism

The theory of the rise of disaster capitalism is essentially that the neo-liberal global economic system seizes on disasters as prime opportunities to circumvent democracy and demand wholesale privatization of public assets without government interference so that even disaster responses are now conducted by and for the benefit of private contractors and industry.

In New Orleans post Katrina rather than help local people rebuild their lives the Government marginalized them and forced them to move, often out of the state entirely.  Poor African American neighborhoods and solidly built housing projects undamaged by the waters were demolished and replaced with condominiums and replicas of white suburbia. Public Schools were replaced with private ones to which local communities could not afford to send their children. New malls were built where houses had stood on profitable real estate and leased to multi-nationals. In the places where there were no real estate opportunities, properties were simply left to fester like ghost towns.

The chapter of the Shock Doctrine on the post Katrina nightmare states:

“The images from New Orleans showed that this was the general belief – that disasters are a kind of time out from cut-throat capitalism, when we all pull together and the state switches into higher gear – had already been abandoned, and with no public debate.”[i]

The main elements of this new approach to post disaster re-construction are that it involves a large scale transfer of Public Wealth to private hands and a lack of democracy or public involvement in decision making.  This was seen drastically in Sri Lanka after the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 where the Government effectively grabbed all land within 100 metres of the coastline from local subsistence fishing communities in the name of safety only to promptly sell it off to multi-national tourism developers to build resorts.  In addition, billions of dollars of aid money from the largest fundraising effort the world has ever seen was siphoned into these tourist developments and corrupt politicians coffers so that little of it actually assisted the affected people for whom it was raised.  For more on this, see the Documentary “From Dust” by Dhruy Dhawan [ii]

Relevance to Christchurch?

This lack of democracy and public debate has been a hallmark of every level of the New Zealand Government’s Reconstruction efforts in Christchurch after the recent seismic disasters. The Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act 2010 was rushed through parliament in a whirlwind three days without proper scrutiny and effectively gave the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) led by Minister Gerry Brownlee the authority to effectively do anything they like and requires no public consultation, environmental safeguards or other features of legislation respectful of democratic process.[iii] As the herald reported this Law “gives CERA specific powers to get information from any source, to requisition and build on land and to carry out demolitions. It can also take over local authorities if they are not working effectively on recovery work.”[iv]

A concern about the CERA approach is that there has been little discussion or public debate about what will be done with the valuable land in the uninhabitable residential Red Zone after it has been purchased. The Government has announced a buyout package for such affected residential land which is essentially a take it or leave it offer for residents who are prohibited from rebuilding on that land.[v] It seems there is overwhelming public support for turning the land around the badly liquefied Avon river and the Iconic Cathedral into public parks and wetlands for the benefit of the city.[vi] However CERA appears evasive on this issue and a growing suspicion is that the land may well end up as prime waterfront private property built on expensively remediated land.

A local community group ‘Action for Christchurch East’ have commented on the need for a cohesive response in an interesting blog post:

“The mistake we made since September was to assume that business and suited politicians are the best equipped people to deal with natural disasters. The government and decision makers have deliberately segmented the communities’ response. We are encouraged to deal with issues individually and are left hoping that our phone messages are responded to – think back to the community briefings where we were told to line up and deal with our issues “separately”, what a missed opportunity for the community to get organised! Groups that have created a collective response and have shown real promise are now being gagged and trodden on.”[vii]

This lack of democratic process or community involvement in Christchurch is allowing for the situation where private contractors are making huge public gains while taxpayers and private individuals all over the country are paying.  Stories are emerging of overbilling, unsatisfactory work and contractors effectively manipulating the system for their personal gain.  Fletchers Construction, a large Auckland based nationwide construction firm with powerful ties to many of the largest New Zealand companies and strong political connections was awarded a Multimillion dollar contract to rebuild the city amid allegations of conflict of interest in the tender process.  The now familiar approach seen in Iraq and New Orleans of companies sub contracting and sub–sub contracting out this work means that the local people actually doing the work get paid little and have little resources to do an effective and quick job while CEOs and shareholders make a tidy profit.  This approach does not create jobs for the worst affected local people and makes them reliant on insubstantial Government handouts.

The Government if elected for a second term will attempt to use the cost of rebuilding to justify speeding up the already planned privatisation of state assets and services further directing public reconstruction money into the private sector. On top of this Taxpayers are now funding $1 billion bailout of AMI Insurance who cannot pay out to insured people.  Increasingly it seems that a select few in the corporate sector will benefit from or have any say in the rebuilding of Christchurch while the working and middle classes will suffer big losses in the areas of living standards, employment, labour standards, public education, and social welfare.

The alternatives

The positive message to come from the awareness of the disaster capitalism complex is to stand up for your community, take power and exercise democracy by being involved in the process and in public debate.   We should not simply sit idly by and watch as our wealth and resources are handed over to corporate interests for individual gain. After Hurricane Katrina a number of communities simply defied the bulldozers and the laws and organized themselves to reoccupy and rebuild their own houses or public schools with little or no outside assistance. Similarly, in Thailand despite attempts by the Government to impose a law similar to the Sri Lankan one, many communities simply stepped over the barriers and started rebuilding their houses without waiting for permission or assistance. The resilience of these communities has led to them surviving as living entities whilst many others around them have not.

 

Worker self-management is a form of direct economics or democratic workplace decision-making in which workers manage their factories or farms as co-operatives.  Salaries are usually more equal and production, division of labour and other decisions are made democratically.   After the Mid 1990s financial collapse in Argentina this approach was used effectively by many local workers who occupied their defunct and bankrupt factories previously owned by wealthy elites and recommenced production with the support of and for the benefit of the community. This story is the subject of a documentary “La Toma” (The Take)[viii] also made by Naomi Klein and her husband Avi lewis.  Interestingly, the Spanish verb ‘recuperar’ used to describe these occupations means not only “to take back” but also “to put back into good condition”. When Police attempted to evict some of these locked in workers the local communities formed a human shield around the factories to prevent it until they eventually won the right to continue.

 

There are many stories of hope and resilience as groups in Christchurch are finding ways to navigate through the bureaucratic nightmare and get on with the task of rebuilding.Gap Filler’ is one initiative started in response to the Christchurch earthquakes which aims to temporarily activate vacant sites within Christchurch with creative projects, to make for a more interesting, dynamic and vibrant city.[ix] Veteran New Zealand Human Rights and Social Justice Activist John Minto stated in his article ‘Anarchy to the rescue in Chch’  “It’s useful for some to remember that anarchy doesn’t mean ‘chaos’ it means ‘without government’. The Christchurch anarchists are showing the will and organisation to help keep their communities going while the resources of the government appear focused elsewhere.”[x]

For more detailed accounts of this from people on the ground in Christchurch check out the upcoming special edition of Freerange: ‘Chur Chur: Stories from the Christchurch earthquake.’

I’m not attempting to incite a riot or suggesting people storm the ‘red zone’ as neither are entirely safe or productive, however if we are able to work together as a collective force then the recuperation of our economy for the benefit of our communities is entirely possible.  As Klein puts it we are rebuilding our cities and our economy “not from scratch but from scraps.”  By this she means that anything left behind by the successive waves of natural and capitalist destruction can be salvaged and recycled into use in this new form of community led economic development. Participating in decision making and ensuring accountability in matters affecting our communities is necessary for achieving this. Investing time, money and energy into local level industry and initiatives has the potential to replace what has been lost and to build a truly local economy and a more livable environment from the ground up.

 

 

 

 


[i] Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine Penguin Books 2007, p.408

[x] John Minto, Anarchy to the rescue in Chch, 27 February, 2011 http://thestandard.org.nz/anarchy-to-the-rescue-in-chch/

 

 

 

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Pledge Me

Freerange recently used an Australian based funding platform called Pozible to raise $AU1500 to print a special book we have made called Chur Chur: Stories from the Christchurch earthquake.   It worked!  We were lucky enough to have support for our fundraiser from a similar new platform in NZ called Pledgeme.  Basically some deal as Pozible and the international Kickstarter, but all NZ owned and operated, so perfect for projects located in the Shakey Isles. Go well.

PledgeMe is the 1st funding platform in NZ. We want to offer the same opportunities that your project had but right here. It is 100% Kiwi owned and operated and aims to bring together those wanting to complete a project they have a passion for, with those who are willing, and able to support them financially.

Crowdfunding allows those with a dream to publicise their goal and attract pledges from as little as $5. In return they offer rewards that will be awarded if their target sum is reached. Content and authenticity of a project are checked before upload and a timescale is set.

A project target can be as little or large as the imagination desires, you are only limited by your ideas. It is free to add a project; charges only apply if the target is reached.

We operate through the website, www.pledgeme.co.nz, and are open to a range of creative talents: arts, circus, dance, film, photography, music, theatre, stand up comedy and other fields such as food, design, fashion, technology, games, comics, journalism, among many others.

So don’t just sit there NZ – get Crowdfunding……

Camilo Borges

Come and follow us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/pledgeme

www.pledgeme.co.nz

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Lovely Lyttelton

I thought this video sits nicely in the theme of our next release Chur Chur: Stories from the Christchurch earthquake When I visited Chch after the earthquake in February my parent’s neighbour said to me one day “I’ve realised that even though you can always rely on your family and friends, sometimes your neighbours are the people you need the most”. True true. This is a beautiful video.

Love in a Little Town from James Muir on Vimeo.

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Inside the redzone

Post-quake Christchurch

Pictures and story by Kate Shuttleworth

The ground still shudders in Christchurch – there’s an underlying feeling of constant movement and instability. I had a taste of the frayed nerves that Cantabrians feel daily when I woke for a quake measuring 5.1. It jolted me upright in bed at 3am.  By the time it had registered, and I was sitting up in bed trying to decide whether jumping out of bed was warranted, it had stopped. The adrenaline and fright left me awake. The 3am startling left me lying in bed fighting to get some rest before the  start of the day – this has been the reality for some people for months.

Christchurch field officer Ian Hamill has been working solidly for the past few months trying to retrieve PPTA equipment from its office in Latimer View House on Gloucester Street within the red zone. The organisation of this brief entry into the fourth floor office space has been long and arduous for Ian. The building is red-stickered, meaning it is unsafe to enter as it stands – this does not mean automatic demolition although some owners are being given 24-hours notice that a building is going to be demolished and few are given the chance to recover possessions. The PPTA have been fortunate to gain access to the building. Two landlords and two paid engineers accompanied the PPTA’s team of four onto the site.

Mychael Stevenson, Peter Cooke, Ian Hamill and myself (Kate Shuttleworth) had an early start at the Civil Defence outpost next to the Christchurch City Art Gallery. We had a security check and photo IDs were made in order to gain access into the strictly guarded cordon last week. Driving into the red zone is what I’d imagine driving into a war zone to be like. Parts of buildings are shattered with no apparent logic – debris litters the central streets. The Christchurch cathedral has been left a shell, totally lacking in its former presence. A safety briefing outside the the former Christchurch PPTA branch office building gave us the information we needed to safely enter. A generator had been secured to allow lighting up the stair well to the fourth floor.

 

While it seemed dangerous and daunting at first the job needed to be done and engineers assured us they would be there in case of an emergency.
A generator was secured and allowed the stairwell to be lit, we’d expected it to be pitch black and had donned our headlamps in preparation for this.
The engineers worked with the building owners to remove a panel of glass on the floor  allowing access to a scissor lift to take office equipment to a truck on ground level.
The office was in a total state of chaos – littered with paper up to half a metre thick in places. Filing cabinet drawers had flown out and were strewn and buckled – their contents thrown  in all directions. Pot plants had been hurled across the room and furniture and electronics were strewn on the floor. Computers, phones, and drawers were nowhere near their places of origin. Some staff who’d been inside the building during the February earthquake did not want to go near the building as they’d been traumatized by the event. They’d given a list of personal items for us to look for – most of these were found. They included, an undamaged pair of glasses thrown across the reception area; family photographs; artwork; a samurai sword, shrapnel from the Western Front in World War I and some tins of apple tea.

We worked solidly to try and retrieve members files. If you can imagine files scattered everyone with their contents all over the place. We tried to retrieve as many files as possible but closed and very old files had to be abandoned due to lack of time.
Peter Cooke worked non-stop to secure as much electronic equipment as possible. I photographed events while clearing the reception and Rae James’ office space. Three hours later after lots of clearing, lifting and sorting we were finished and all  felt it had been a excellent team effort where we’d retrieved as much as was practically possible

 

 

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The Christchurch Orphans

I want to write about the orphans of Christchurch architecture that I documented in January this year, just weeks prior to the February earthquake. By orphans I’m referring to heritage buildings that individually don’t deserve attention, but that in unison create `character’ in the area. These buildings are often given a Category 3 or 4 classification if they are registered with the Historic Places Trust. What this means is that they create a “sense of place’, (a planning term) and a connection with the city’s Victorian past. However as a result of the earthquake, the damaged survivors of this group might quietly disappear altogether.

One of the good things about being freelance is that when you get called to crew on a sailing ship, sometimes you can say yes. On January 20th I jumped aboard Mattijs’ boat Tardis III and made my way down to Christchurch the old-fashioned way; by wind and by a motor that leaked gas into the cabin where I spent most of the trip horizontal. I never quite recovered from the gale that blew us through the straight. But the arms of the harbour welcomed us early Saturday morning, and a few Lyttelton lights twinkled.
I was relieved to moor at Diamond Harbour, Banks Peninsula for engine repairs, (and the hospitality of Anne and Jim Thornton, grandparents of one of the crew.) I stayed a night at their idyllic house on the bluff, with a view back to Tardis III and the port beyond. Anne discovered my interest in heritage architecture and kindly handed me phone numbers, books, maps, bus timetables and newspaper clippings.

The next day I said goodbye to the crew, and caught the ferry to Lyttelton. I saw how the historic port village had weathered the earthquake in September and took coffee in a cafe on Oxford Street. Inside was a blend of blackened weatherboards, old photographs, designer chairs and the posters of vanished Wellington bands. Lyttelton is enriched by living close to its past and it’s not precious about it. Weeks later a 6.3 earthquake was centred under the town, and the same cafe featured in a photograph taken by Jason South for the Sydney Morning Herald. (on the right, above). Other causalities included the Time Ball Station, the Lyttelton Lounge building, the old library and post office, the museum, the Lyttelton Times building, the Canterbury Hotel, the Forbes building, the Royal Hotel and the Harbour Light Theatre.
In 1850, the settlers from the First Four Ships climbed over the notoriously steep Bridle Path to found the city of Christchurch on the plains. My arrival was also painfully slow via the number 28 bus. I alighted as soon as I saw a landslide of brick on a corner of Manchester Street. Without strengthening many brick buildings had gaping holes, but as well as the earthquake damage their condition spoke of aimless years of seedy adult shops and antique dealers. They had been neglected, then vacated and fenced off after the first quake, and now these orphaned Victorian streetscapes are in ruins, as photographed by Martin Hunter, Getty images (on the right, below).

It was difficult to find any professional opinions on the fate of these less important buildings. I visited a disheartened Robin Gibbs at the historic places trust; the Boxing Day aftershock had resulted in more demolition consents for her to process. She gave me a street map marking the worst affected areas, which I used as a guide. Architect and heritage advocate Peter Beavan wasn’t in his attic office in the Provincial Chambers, but in the article titled `Beavan’s bold view for a city,’ The Press, January 26th, were his opinions about restoring Victorian streetscapes for mixed-use development.
I was expecting wide, empty shopping streets and a lonely crossing of the square, but as I walked into the central city, I joined a stream of tourists and sporty looking people in wheelchairs. The Buskers festival and the Special Olympics were on in the same week. I was never lonely. When I got tired of photographing one injured building after another, I would flop down in the sun with everyone else to be entertained. The international performers got the tentative crowds enjoying their public spaces again and laughing at themselves (and also at middle aged white men who couldn’t dance).
I wandered. Across the road from the supermarket zone I saw yet another corner hotel in a green shroud, but this one had a For Lease sign. In the darkness I saw steel strengthening on the inside walls. Ian the builder explained that this was in fact put in after the quake, but because the building was sitting in a dug out trench it had been able to flex. The upstairs was open and light and contained Merve Cooper, the owner, a retired builder who had the grit to work through two major earthquakes.

I got the whole story, so I guess there are benefits to being a skirt on a building site. The Grosvenor Hotel was built in 1870 and was previously owned but neglected by the neighbouring polytechnic. Sometime in the 1970’s it gained a `sweatband’ of concrete that wrapped around the original moulded cornice. This was ugly, but held the building together during the earthquake. The building had a category 3 rating, which allowed Merve to remodel, rather than restore. He gutted the interior partition walls and stairwells to create an open plan multi-use space. He then inserted a masonry core stairwell, plywood floor & ceiling diaphragms, poured a polished concrete ground floor and applied a waterproof plaster layer over original exterior brickwork. And all done to budget.
Owners like Merve develop for the love of it. They also have strength of character. This bridges the gap between the cost of the reconstruction and the value of the completed building. There is no incentive for restoration available from the Government in New Zealand, and our Historic Places Trust is just a regulatory body, and so offers no financial assistance. The current restrictive council requirements for quake-strengthening, combined with heritage preservation standards, pose a risk to character buildings. And if they’re not registered with the trust, they can be easily demolished for their speculative land value.
After the site visit, Merve whisked me away by car for an overview of heritage buildings in what was, in his words “the best city in New Zealand”. They were damaged, but he was optimistic that they would be repaired. We then had a cup of tea in the boardroom of his family’s new mall, and I pored through the original photographs and drawings of the hotel.
After the February earthquake I searched online for the iconic buildings of Merve’s tour. Among the fallen were the former University buildings, the Knox Church, Christchurch Girls High School, the Oxford Street Baptist Church, and the Provincial hotel.. I later spoke to Merve as he was waiting for his heritage approved paint to dry. His pragmatic approach had guaranteed the standing of the hotel for at least another 50 years.

I returned to Wellington from Christchurch by train. In the travel section of the Wellington library images of `English Christchurch’ and Merve’s hotel could be seen in `A Picture Book of Old Canterbury,’ Ken Coates, Halina Ogonowska-Coates.’ The city was rapidly planned in a new world modified grid pattern, financed by the coal and wool boom of the 1860’s and 70’s. Eric Pawson wrote of the colonial habit of calling the swamps `wasteland’ in his article `Confronting Nature’, included in the book `Southern Capital Christchurch.’. It explained how Edward Gibbon Wakefield and the founders of the Canterbury settlement, who included Anglican ministers, worked on a bias between the `barbarism’ of the `wastelands’ and the `civilisation’ of a chief town.
I was intrigued by a map of these natural wetlands that had been drained to create significant flatlands. This made me think of liquefaction problems even at the time.

I was contemplating going back down to Christchurch for a second visit around the time of the February earthquake. Then I got involved in set-dressing a shipping container for the Performance Arcade, a public art event on the waterfront, curated by Sam Trubridge of the playground Collective. The evening of the earthquake, the bicycle powered chandelier of Marcus McShane’s work `Nag’ looked so homely against the sky and the city that it drew in a group of Christchurch refugees who asked if they could stay the night. That weekend I had the opportunity to show slides of my visit at the Pecha Kucha evening held in the arcade, and so perhaps bring the Wellington audience closer to the event.
It’s reported that about 800, or roughly half of Christchurch’s heritage buildings, have been red stickered, many of which I managed to capture during my visit. Some were strengthened, but then got red stickered because neighbouring buildings were badly damaged. Owners who had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars are holding vigil against the clean-up. They face Gerry Brownlee’s comments to “pull the old dungas down,” and some are not informed of demolition until it is too late.

The ruined brick buildings of Christchurch reminded me of the images of the Napier ’31 earthquake I had seen on class trips to the museum there. Students from the University of Auckland were among the architects called in to help re-build the city, and they championed the Art Deco style. It was strange and modern, but must have been convincing as a cost-effective solution whose smooth surfaces were free of deadly decoration. Back then a moratorium was placed on the rebuilding of any business premises until further notice, in order to allow time for the rational planning of a new CBD for Napier, written about in an article by R. McGregor, 1998.
Global cities gain their culture through a process of natural growth and adaptation. Perhaps it would be rational before wildly red-stickering, to find out if there are any heritage streets that remain mostly intact. It may be the case that on some streets in central Christchurch only one or two buildings in a row need the attention of reconstruction. Reconstruction provides skilled craftsmen with an income, which in turn helps the local economy. And for the streets that are beyond saving, we should take the time to reflect on the qualities they possessed in their lifetime: proportion, decoration, human scale, individuality and variation and soaring ceilings that you could really dream in.

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Chucking Bricks in Christchurch

Christchurch has lost it’s chimneys. Perhaps it should have lost them before this. Tens of thousands of homes now have holes in their ceilings after their chimneys collapsed in the feburary earthquake, and now residents can’t light fires when they need them most. I am not a great fan of chimneys anyway. We don’t live in the stone age, and just plain burning stuff is a stone age way of heating, no matter how romantic it may be. If going to the toilet on the footpath was romantic, then it’d be behaviour on a par environmentally with heating your home by using a fire.

But Christchurch was a city built disregarding it’s environment anyway. Someone just let a town sprawl out over a shallow windless depression of drained marshland, and then let people heat everything in it with coal and wood. Many of them still did until a few weeks back. I used to live in Lytellton and cycle to work in Christchurch over the bridle path track. I’d crest that hill, sweating, at 8.30am of an autumn morning, and ahead would be a lake of coal smoke with a few tall buildings poking up through it. I’ve commuted by bicycle in Los Angeles and London as well, and Christchurch was worse to ride in than either because of it’s dependence on this insane victorian style of heating.

I like a room with a mantlepiece and a fireplace, but I really just like leaning on the mantlepiece and pretending to smoke a pipe. A fireplace nicely breaks up a boring wall, and is handy for putting bookshelves up on each side of, but actually lighting a fire in an open fireplace isn’t something that happens much in my experience. Uncontained wood burns with amazing swiftness, and almost all the heat produced by it goes straight up the chimney and warms the globe rather than warming you. Woodburners of course aren’t quite so inefficient, and they don’t need those two or three metric tonnes of brick that you can feel hanging over you in these shakey isles either. Woodburners just need a shaft of pipe, and that isn’t going to collapse and hurt anyone, or take a large chunk of roof down with it either.

I’ve lived in many old houses with chimneys, and I’ve liked all those houses, so it’s odd that I should be arguing against a part of them, but I just can’t help myself. Chimneys are inefficient, and whilst I love old buildings, I’ve never seen chimneys as being defining points of their character. If you’ve ever looked across the London rooftops, out over that sea of grotty victorian and edwardian sprawl that ends in an assault of brick on the sky, you’ll know that it’s one of the most sordid and grimy views that the world has. All that those ranks of chimneys speak of is the bad old industrial revolution. Child labour, coal smoke, the mill-worker’s failing lungs, the seamstress’s clouded eyes.

I haven’t liked the old houses I’ve lived in because they’ve had chimneys, but because they’ve been beautiful houses, even if sometimes their charm has been that of decaying grandeur. One house in Aro Valley had two chimneys that were unusable and lacked witches hats, but also had a peaked roof with a fine view. We ran left and right speaker cables down the chimneys and set a waterproofed speaker atop each, and lo, with the addition of a decent ladder a summer of fun afternoons was born.

There was another hatless chimney which used to moan oddly on windy nights. When it started to smell as well as moan I excavated it and found a dead possum atop of a lot of wet 80’s newspapers that were stuffed up there. I buried the possum, gave up on heating the room, and just put some ferns in the fireplace to catch the drips. They thrived. I didn’t.

An issue like redundant chimneys in New Zealand feels a very small thing to be concerned about in respect of the serious devastation in Japan, a country that’s never been cursed with these weighty pieces of victorian architecture. In the context of Japan’s earthquake I could grumble about nuclear power, or our insane reliance on oil, and what is more I could argue with much more force and vigour about these things than I can about chimneys. But people have long been talking about the problems with nuclear power and with oil, and no-one’s listened, and nothing’s changed, and in the mean time I might as well make an argument for getting rid of these mildly dangerous and mostly obsolete structures all around us. I doubt that the powers that be have much vested interest in chimneys, so here we might actually make a difference.

I just feel that rooftops are prime places for better things. All of our energy comes from the sun in some way (except for geologic energy and nuclear energy, and we’ve had enough of those), and rooftops are sun-traps. Brick chimneys aren’t hard to dismantle either if you tackle them carefully in a top-down fashion. I feel more people should get up there and do things with all that sun-drenched space.

You could divert your guttering to collect rainwater for the garden, or throw up a solar water-heating panel. I know of people who’ve successfully dissembled their chimney down to the mantlepiece without even putting up scaffolding.   Sure, a non-structural chimney is work to remove, but it’s not difficult work. And then you’ve got a fine hole just waiting for a skylight.

And a pile of bricks for the garden.

 

Marcus McShane

 

 

For practical advice:

http://forum.doityourself.com/fireplaces-heating-stoves-flues-chimneys/197333-removing-chimney.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_5034337_remove-victorian-brick-chimney.html

 

 

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