Another New City Plan for Christchurch

Between the anti-government reflex to hate everything they produce, and the pro-Christchurch desire to support any sense of progress and vision is a more constructive critique of the announcements of the new city plan. This is an attempt to make such a critique, quickly.

[information_box] The CCDU documents can be downloaded from here.
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In short, it doesn’t seem like enough information to justify 100 days of hard work by a large team of international and national designers and planners. If we accept that everyone was working really hard to achieve this vision, then we have two options, either I’m underestimating what it takes to get to this level of details, or there is a lot of decision making that has taken place that is not in this plan. I’ve seen small teams of architecture or design students produce as much as this in 100 days before, so I’m led to believe the gritty detail in this has been left out on purpose. I’m also inclined to belief that some big and controversial decisions have been made and not announced today to protect the good news of the delivery. The absence of any announcement on the town hall is characteristic of this. It doesn’t appear in the plan, and rumour suggests that a decision has been made for it to be demolished, yet it makes only some vague comment about it, with no information about land quality, cost, or decision making criteria.

The announcement today was always as much about how well it was delivered as it was about the content. I don’t mean this to dismiss the huge importance of the contents of the plan for shaping the future of Christchurch, but the dominant processes that constitute the rebuild are controlled by CERA via Gerry Brownlee and cabinet and must always be read first and foremost as political decisions. As such, today was the governments bold attempt to regain control of the rebuild narrative in Christchurch and shatter the unsettling sense of crisis establishing itself here. A good delivery would create a sense of vision and progress that would both appease the increasingly restless population, and bring certainty to investors and businesses. A bad delivery would see the crisis evolve and spread, something this government can’t afford on a national level. How funny as it that the Waitangi tribunal decision on water rights came out at the perfect moment to disturb the attempt at relentless good news of the the New Christchurch Plan. The government knew the delivery of this plan is everything which is why we saw the three salesmen, Gerry Brownlee, John Key, and Bob Parker out in force today.

For me the plan largely produces a sense of relieve in that it broadly follows the logic of the council plan released late last year, but with a a more aggressive approach to key sites. It announces nine key precincts where government or council money will lead building. Look at the plan here for details of these but they include large areas for sports, cultural, arts, justice precincts.

Like much of the todays announcement these seem like a good idea in principle, but don’t give enough information to verify whether they have been thought through thoroughly. There is no population metrics to test the scale of these versus the need. There is no budget or business case to show if the income generated matches the cost. There is also no clear sense of who might design and build the large areas, or how a process might work to decide this. It is the same firms who did the master plan? Will there be international competitions? Will it be split into smaller jobs? Will it be by design build entities? Is it going to be PPPs or more conventional modes of procurement? Jessica Halliday has noticed the frightening news that the previously announced urban design review panel has being reduced and will now have one representative from the Christchurch City Council, CERA, and Ngai Tahu. Which is just plain strange. This is a city blue print designed with out any urban designers, and an urban design panel with no specific architecture or design expertise.

We have some sense of a master plan for the city now. We do not have:

– Any detail at about existing buildings. Which current buildings get to stay? who decides this? through what process?
– Any costings at all. Sure a stadium is a nice idea, but how much does it cost? How much will it earn each year? etc.
– No real timeline. This plan is at best a ten year plan, and probably closer to twenty, and yet there is little or no indication of which project happen first, which ones are financial priorities?
– Any real sense of the architectural values of the buildings. They have thankfully kept the 7 story limit in most of the city, but we have no sense of scale or material with the projects. The precincts are far too huge, and are likely to become large deadzone for much of the time in the city.
– Any mixed use in the planning. The plan cites best precedent but seems to have dismissed the importance of mixed use in the huge precincts.

I don’t mean this to come across entirely negatively as the basic decisions seem sensible. But this is the barest possible amount of information to produce a vision for the city. I wrote a letter few months ago that criticised this government and its approach to Christchurch for a lack of shared vision and a complete lack of transparency. The announcement today goes someway to establishing a shared vision but does almost nothing to address the astoundingly small amount of information about why and how decisions are being made.

I think the plan contains the seed for a great new city, but it needs install a process to assure that these projects and the plan is able to catch the mistakes that are inevitably made, and to enable the people of this city to gain ownership of it again. While it would be nicer not to read this whole process as a series of political acts, the lack of real information forces us to critique what we can. The increasing sense of crisis across the city has probably been just diverted by the announcements today, but at the same time it enables the focusing of a larger number of smaller acute crisis to develop. This is an good step for the city.

There are many varied battles to continue in Christchurch, the most pressing of which is to get the housing crises moving and to take some responsibility to get people out of the terrible housing conditions at the moment. The plan needs to address a number of other things such as:

-The need to establish a heritage policy for what is left of the CBD.

– It needs to reintroduce the mixed use principles that were in the last city plan, and

– Reconsider the huge scale of the precincts.

– Most importantly CERA needs to establish some proper modes of consultation and communication with the city.

Um, I suppose I should conclude with something.

Of course, my favourite Voltiare quote.

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Its ok to make mistakes, lets make sure there are processes in place to catch small mistakes before they become huge ones.

 

Ducks (and Architecture) in Christchurch

[medium_button_center type=”red” link=”http://www.nzia.co.nz/competitions.aspx” text=”The Christchurch branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects is running a competition to design a temporary relocatable pavilion in Christchurch with $30,000 that the Auckland branch generously fundraised. Click here for details. “]

It closes soon but I encourage anyone with interesting ideas and the time to enter.

It is a peculiar brief that demands some radical creativity to transcend it.    Three of the five goals of the brief are about the promotion of: architecture, architects, the local branch, and the New Zealand Institutes of Architects.  One is for it to be relocatable, and the last for it to be usable by other groups.  Incongruously, the brief asks that the project provide weatherproof and secure space for exhibitions, and that the exhibitions be able to be viewed by the public after hours and without anyone resident.  This is a great design challenge.

In light of the enormously generous projects that have popped up around Christchurch that provide physical and cultural amenity for the city such as neighbourhood water fountains, dance spaces, free cinemas, petanque courts and a new cross-city mini golf course, it seems extraordinary that the primary goal of this building is to promote architecture and NZIA.   We might as well install a giant sign saying THIS IS ARCHITECTURE.

Although, perhaps this is an enlightened challenge to the architects and designers of our times. What is architecture about architecture? Is this possible? Is it is an oxymoron?  What is the function of a building that primary purpose is to promote architecture?

We all know that this city is in desperate need of good architecture, and to develop a culture that promotes and understands the role that design can play in making this an even more beautiful and liveable city.    But I’m not sure if we need architecture that is about architecture.   It reaks of the eighties.    One of the great post-modern texts on architecture called Learning From Las Vegas says there are two types of building.  The first, Decorated Sheds are generic buildings with expensive and expressive signage that communicate its function; think service stations, the warehouse, and even the new gallery in Christchurch. The later is The Duck, which raises the symbolism of what it is to the architecture, at its most literal a duck is building that sells ducks, a giant hot dog that sells hot dogs, a building with a steeple that reaches to the sky is obviously a church, you get the idea.

Should the pavilion be a duck or a decorated shed?  Well to answer that we need to understand its function. What is this building for?  To promote architecture with exhibitions about architecture by architects.  Its all spirals into self-referentiality;  I can’t help but think the first exhibition will just have pictures of the building inside it, will those pictures have little pictures of the pictures that are in the building in the pictures?

Perhaps we should just build a giant duck that acts as a building, and it can sell little bath-sized-duck-buildings.  This surely is what the brief is asking for, this giant duck will once and for all convince the public on the need for good quality architecture.

Has the NZIA  demonstrated an extraordinary inability to connect with reality. Look at all the suffering, people living in garages, extraordinary high flu rates, destroyed heritage buildings, angry red zoned people, a council that has lost its democratic powers, a broke and broken university, a bully with dictatorship powers ruling the city, inefficient and non-communicating layers of government control; eqc, sera, council, and the strange sense that its the Insurance Companies with their $20 billion mountain of cash that is making the calls in this process.  All this and the architects of the country think the most important way to spend $30,000 is to design architecture about architecture.  Its like the organisation that represents architects like to think that architecture isn’t political.

Now, I would enter this competition. You think I’d be the sort of person they’d want to enter this competition.  I’ve been involved in the design and fabrication of complex contemporary pavilions in both Melbourne and Sydney, won design awards in NZ, Australia, and Europe,  worked on the design of temporary builds for the Rio Olympics, and now I’m doing a PHD looking at the emergence of temporary architecture in post-earthquake Christchurch.  But the rules of this competition state you either need to be a member of the local branch of the NZIA or team up with one.  So not only is it an architecture about architecture by the institute of architecture; only people associated with the institute of architecture can enter the competition.  Which is funny given how few of the amazing projects that have arisen since the earthquakes have any architects involved with them.

This is either a remarkably self-serving display by the NZIA, or a move of critical genius designed to facilitate much needed discussion about the role of architecture in the rebuild.  The latter seems unlikely, but then the former is too depressing to contemplate. I don’t know what to believe.

The only thing I have any confidence is that we can, on occasions, do brilliant design, and that there will be some people much less cynical than me who will push their way through this peculiar brief and propose a building that contributes meaningfully to what is happening to Christchurch at the moment.

I also have confidence that the judges will know what this is when they see it.

Žižek on toilets and the Christchurch rebuild

A few years back, I was wandering through an art gallery and came upon a room with a video projected on a large white wall. The video was short, only a few minutes long, and since it repeated on a loop, I watched it several times. The video was of a speech given by a wild-eyed man with a shaggy beard who I later learned was the modern philosopher Slavoj Žižek who has since become an intellectual hero for members of the Occupy movement.

In the video, Žižek talks about the connection between objects and ideology using, as examples, the different types of toilets he encountered while traveling through Europe. He reflects on three types: the French, the German and the British toilet. For the uninitiated, I shall briefly describe each. In France, the toilet is designed with the hole at the back of the bowl so the waste falls immediately into water and can disappear unseen and unacknowledged by its maker. The German model is the exact opposite. The Germans place the hole in the front of the bowl with a raised shelf behind. When you use the toilet, the waste collects on the dry shelf below you, affording the opportunity to inspect it for disease before you flush it off the shelf and into the hole in the front. The English design is a compromise that places the hole in the center of the bowl with a larger amount of water. This lets the user decide whether they wish to confront their waste or not.

Noticing these things, Žižek wanted to know how these different designs had come about. Architect friends supplied him with technical books on the subject and he describes how each designer tries to prove their design is the best in a purely functional sense. Since they are all ultimately variations on a theme, Žižek says this argumentation merely reflects the cultural ideology behind the features of each design. While there may be technical arguments for one design feature or another, the best combination is ultimately a matter of cultural taste. To those who would argue we live in a post-ideological world, Žižek says you only need to go to the toilet to find you are literally sitting on ideology, so to speak.

While it may seem ridiculous (and perhaps a bit gross) to spend too much time pondering toilet design, I find his argument compelling on a number of levels. Every man-made object is, in varying proportions, both utilitarian and symbolic. We have items that are almost entirely symbolic which, like a king’s scepter, have almost no utilitarian purpose whatsoever. At the other extreme are things like the humble toilet, which are so banal and commonplace that we can forget they carry any symbolic baggage at all. The toilet is an especially extreme example since the act of using the toilet is considered by most cultures to be a vulgar necessity, to be done in private and not to be discussed, further negating any potential symbolic value. A designer wanting to make their mark on the world is not likely to choose the toilet as their medium. But there it is: holes in different places, shelves, different water flows, and we haven’t even left Europe.

These small differences can have lasting social impacts. To this day, most German men urinate sitting down, precisely because any attempt to pee directly on the German shelf from a height results in urine being splashed all over the room. Although the German-style toilet is disappearing (perhaps understandably) from German homes and public places, the culture of seated urination for men is alive and well. Foreign men living in the country for any length of time are likely to encounter signs urging them to sit down and it is not uncommon for a German host to ask for this directly, even if they have an English-style bowl. It makes me wonder how many habits I carry around from objects now gone or completely different from their antecedents (the QWERTY keyboard I’m typing on comes to mind).

To point out that objects carry cultural and ideological values with them is perhaps to state the obvious. But I think that objects and buildings have the potential to develop multiple layers of ideology that can, with time, eventually build up like geologic strata.

Take the example of an apartment building. There is the original mix of utility and symbolism infused by the designer and the builder of the time (and likely the funder as well). On top of this, users of the building add their decorative flair and periodic renovations from new owners leave architectural time stamps in the form of a 19th century banister here, 70s carpet there, and modern windows that open in and out in every direction imaginable.

Historical events and movements add a layer as well. I have been living in Berlin for the past year and the city is full of apartment buildings with abrupt endings and odd gaps, likely the result of Allied bombs. The plain architecture of the new buildings erected in these gaps show the urgent need for housing at the time, communist leanings, or both.

It is on the more meta-scale of the building scape where these ideological features are most pronounced. In addition to the scars of war, many of Berlin’s surviving buildings have blank spots where swastikas once were (or the hammer and sickle for that matter). These added layers of historical symbolism reveal the past struggles of identity and belief and reflect them back on the current users. The rebuilding of Berlin since the war and after the fall of the wall forced Berliners to reflect upon who they were and what they believed. It has also played a strong role in creating the feeling of possibility and reinvention that is a hallmark of the town.

Berlin is perhaps the most extreme example, but I think a similar struggle for identity is underway in Christchurch at the moment. In a city where people still care about which of the four original ships their ancestors came on, the brick buildings lost in the earthquakes are not only a matter of heritage but are also symbols to Cantabrians of how they have traditionally seen themselves—the most English of English-New Zealanders.

English is what most Pakeha have considered themselves, with people as recently as the 1950s still referring to Kiwis traveling to Britain as “visiting home”. New Zealanders only really began to define themselves as a separate national identity after WWII and were forced to confront this issue through a series of events: the loss of colonial trade links in the late 60s and early 70s, the rising legal recognition of the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi, the Springbok tour in the 80s, and the continuation of anti-nuclear policies to the present day.

Discussions about New Zealand identity are few and far between these days and tend to be mixed in with racial issues (the “kiwi, not iwi” National slogan and Paul Henry’s breakfast show comments come to mind). The Christchurch rebuild therefore provides an important opportunity not only for current Cantabrians to consider what mark they want to leave on their town, but also for all New Zealanders to envision themselves more broadly in terms of bricks and mortar (or rather wood and steel, considering the circumstances).

It is interesting that these changes are happening in one of New Zealand’s more conservative cities. This is likely to mean that innovative designs, if they are to be accepted, will need to have both a vision for the future, and a connection with the past. I hope New Zealand’s design community is successful in this regard and is able to shape something positive out of what has been one of New Zealand’s most traumatic natural disasters. It certainly won’t be easy.

I wonder what sort of public toilets they will have.

 

Picture of a German toilet.

 

Picture of a please sit down sign.

Dear Gerry and Roger pt I

[This is an open letter sent to The Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Reconstruction, Gerry Brownlee, and the Cera CEO, Roger Sutton]

Dear Gerry and Roger,

Re: Red Zone Decisions.

I am writing to express deep concerns about critical aspects of decision-making in Christchurch since the September 2010 earthquake. There are two areas in which your governance is failing. They are both difficult, but history and international precedent tell us they are critical to good governance. The two areas are transparency and vision.

Transparency is critical to the healthy functioning of democracy; it enables people to see why decisions are being made. In one of the most successful and well governed cities in the world, Vancouver, all council and planning meetings are held in public, filmed and archived. Deals between land-owners, councils, and governments are made in public, and are subsequently made in favour of public good.

I accept that decisions like red-zoning properties are not taken lightly, and that the motivation to protect residents in these areas is a noble one.  I also appreciate the incredible amount of detailed engineering expertise that is constantly contributing to our understanding of this very complex situation.

The people who work at Cera are, in my experience, very hard working and act with the utmost care and respect. I can only imagine the emotional toll it must take to announce night after night to communities that their homes and neighbourhoods are going to be destroyed.

This is, however a political issue, and the processes which have been created to work through these issues are, in my opinion, deeply troubling. There are much more complex and difficult situations in developing countries where the informal residents, who don’t own land, are accorded more respect and greater legal rights than the residents in the Christchurch’s red zones at the moment.

In its decisions to remove entire neighborhoods, the government has followed a course that has involved no real public or community engagement. Information is not shared with communities until a final decision has been made. For some residents, this vast chasm in communication has extended over a year now.

The decision to red-zone land is a complex one that necessarily draws on knowledge about geotechnical information, land use, property prices, and re-insurability. While there is undeniably a technical aspect to this work, the complete absence of community engagement in the decision-making process is paternal in nature and suggests a deep fear of or disrespect for the citizens who live in these places.

While it is obvious that there are complicated issues surrounding the liability of EQC and private insurers, the government should not permit this complexity to obscure the accountability of its own processes. Indeed, this complexity should encourage transparency of process. The “offer” to buy out houses cannot be presented as such if its refusal entails the withdrawal of both services and insurance. What is really on offer here is a forced removal from the land. The government knows well that the latter would call for  consultation, transparency, and for rights, such as the option of first refusal (if the land is resold at a future date) to be extended to residents. In its present terms, the government is offering a Claytons choice that illustrates cowardice in the face of the incredible bravery shown by the people here in Christchurch over the past 18 months.

We ask that you start to engage with residents before decisions are made. Tell them what is going on. They have lived through the past 18 months, why is there a need to keep information secret from the public? This invites rumours and gossip. There are two types of information at play here; that which is not of the government’s making: the land condition, the engineering reports, people’s insurance contracts etc. We understand that the current government is not to blame for the immense difficulties with these issues. Then there is another type of information which the government is responsible for: the communication, the decisions since the earthquake, the amount of money currently at stake. Acknowledge that people are mature enough to make the distinction between these. Let the sunlight in.

Please consider extending the offer on red-zone land. Five years seems a more appropriate timeframe. If you want to leave now then great take the offer, start afresh in a new house. If however the residents want to know what is happening to the area, if they think there might be a review process, if they are worried their land is going to be a park or a condo, then give people 4 or 5 years to work this out. There is a housing shortage in the city. Why force people out of perfectly good houses for no immediate reason? Time and some sense of stability are the fresh air that people need in Christchurch right now. It is your job to give them this. Not to pressure them into decisions without full knowledge of their situation and in order to conform to timelines that have no apparent logic.

At the TEDx conference in May 2011 one of the speakers talked about Christchurch becoming the place that people in the rest of the world will refer to as exemplary: “let’s do what they did in Christchurch”. Coming only a few months after February, this was a generous comment that recognized the city’s potential to pave a way for others.

Gerry and Roger, you are failing us in this vision. Your relationship with the community is paternal rather than constructive, your timelines are slow and opaque, and your power structures are vague and unarticulated. The unseemly haste to demolish the heritage of the city is at odds with the long political delays in decision making in the red zones, planning, and other areas. The people of Christchurch understand the need to make decisions based on economics and supply of capital. You need to understand that while the heritage of the city does not have a direct financial value, it does have an immense social and cultural worth. It is the government’s role to protect this worth, not expedite its destruction with false excuses of haste and cost.   There are dozens of examples both residential and urban, such as the Avon loop neighbourhood and the Anglican cathedral respectably, where there is no need to make decisions yet, time can be used in our favour.

Slow decision-making is fine and often better if the decisions are careful and people are made aware of the processes and information as to why it is taking time and what may happen. The ponderous decision-making currently emerging from Cera is unacceptable because critical decisions, like housing support for those still homeless one year after the event, are late and ineffective. The country continues to embrace the idea that no one should be left ruined or damaged by the events of the past 18 months. The hundreds of families living in cold garages, the elderly living in housing unfit for humans, the people who are soon to be forced out of perfectly good houses, and the lack of appeal or review process all illustrate your lack of ability, or will, to accomplish this.

Gerry and Roger, you are failing to give people a vision for the future, and by doing so you are extending their suffering and sense of powerlessness.  You made the peculiar decision to separate the planning of the CBD from the rest of the city, asking the City Council to create a plan for this central area, but not the rest of the city/  Through the dark times of last year they created a remarkable process and a visionary plan, that was not without problems, but that did give vision to peoples voices and much needed hope to this city.   You then sat on this plan for endless months, only to finally accept to the vision but reject the process, as if the ends can be separated from the means to achieve it.  Once again transparency was removed and powerful decisions were made behind closed doors with out any sense of logic or honest agenda.  They appointment of professional teams to work on the city offers some hope, but again there is no communication about how they were appointed, what they are doing, how they hope to achieve it, and by what criteria their success will be judged.

Soon after the February 22nd quake extraordinary legislation was passed that gave you power to do what was needed to assure that people were protected in this city. At the time, many legal experts were worried at the scope and breadth of these powers. Dean Knight of Victoria University expressed concern that the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act 2010, “gives ministers vast and untrammelled power to change laws in the name of earthquake recovery – without adequate checks and balances and that this legislation violates basic principles within our constitution and upsets our democratic infrastructure.” His concerns were echoed by others in the legal community. These are concerns which still need to be voiced.

In an abstracted sense the earthquake legislation was concerning and dangerous, but we held our noses and let the extraordinary legislation pass as a response to the extraordinary times in Christchurch. Now, 12 months later, the practical impact of poorly considered legislation is playing out in Canterbury. The last remaining traces of democracy are being folded into Cera’s reach, as if the problems and delays were being caused by a lack of centralized power. Gerry and Roger, you of all people must understand that with power comes responsibility. You cannot demotivate, disempower, and demolish communities without taking on the responsibility to care for these people. Saying that “there is no problem” or that “the market will sort it out” or that we “are being hysterical’ or that you “can’t do anything about it” is simply an abdication of your power. The best that can be said of the Cera legislation is that is sets the conditions for a benevolent dictatorship. The key part of this contract between the government and the people of NZ is a benevolence that is lacking with frequent references the people must continue to suffer until the market responds to their needs.

Gerry and Roger, you have remarkable power in your hands. Please show some humility and change this short-sighted, opaque and ill-timed decision-making. Please engage with the people of Christchurch. If you are not capable of reflection and change, and if you are not capable of articulating, or even enabling a vision for this city, then perhaps it is time to open up space for those who can.

Yours Sincerely

Barnaby Bennett

 

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.

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)

 

 

 

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.

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

 

 

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

 

 

What’s going wrong in Christchurch?

The NZ Government has finally released their plans for a solution to the temporary housing problems affecting residents after the February 22 Earthquake.    The announcement is proof that the Government is successfully doing a miraculous job of delivering housing that is expensive, slow and low quality.  There is a well known management triangle  for project delivery that states that projects can be quick, cheap and good quality, but can only be two of these.  The government is proving innovative in its ability to fail at all three.  Lets look at this in detail.

Low quality design.

The design above is ripped from the article here on stuff is by one of the three official suppliers NZ Transportable Units who normally build cottages for farms and granny flats.   While the proposals will no doubt pass the low requirements on detailing and materials embedded in the NZ Building codes the above 10 x 5 design quickly reveals some peculiar planning.

  • no laundry,
  • it appears that the kitchen is completely walled in,
  • you can’t get to the 2nd bedroom without climbing over the couch,
  • the master bedroom 3/4 the length of the single bed,
  • inefficient separation of kitchen and bathroom plumbing.

Expensive

Each of these units is going to cost $85,00o, which might sound cheap for a house over ones head.  However, this unit is only 50 square metres. That’s a square metre rate of $1,700.   I recently saw an ad in Melbourne for a 456m2 house for $477,000 costing $1056 per square meter.  If we include the dollar difference that means the so called ‘Emergency’ Housing been proposed for Christchurch is twice as expensive as cheap housing in Melbourne suburbs.   The Government has set aside $38 million to cover the construction costs, however families will be charged between $170 and $336 per week to live in the houses, and will have to pay for their own installation costs if on their own land.   In Japan families have been given rent free use of the accommodation for two years.  The median income in New Zealand is around $33,000 per year, or around $667 per week.   Housing Stress or rent related economic pressure is said to become critical when a family spends more than 1/3 of their income on the housing.    So its clear that for many families with multiple dependents living around or below median income in NZ the rental prices being charged by the government for these houses will add to their pressures and problems rather than alleviate them.

Late

In Japan construction of temporary housing had started within two weeks of the disaster, in New Zealand it is now over two months and contractors for the job have only just been announced.   Show homes are promised to be constructed by mid may,  10-12 weeks after the disaster and still weeks and months away from the actual housing.  Japan is heading towards summer and Christchurch is heading towards what promises to be a cold and dark winter.

Problem

The source of this mismanagement is two fold.  Firstly I think the Government and the contractors are missing the crucial difference between Emergency housing and reconstruction. Emergency housing is often expensive but needs to be quick and the requirements are ones of shelter and safety.  Reconstruction is usually quite slow, can be cheaper if well thought out,  but needs to address future community needs and engage with proper planning and community involvement.  The proposed house designs are just low quality versions of what is built for permanent use in NZ and this doesn’t seem to suit anyone much. The second problem is a cultural and leadership one that sees no potential for innovation. It illustrates not only a complete lack of imagination, but also an ideology that is resistant to using expertise and international precedent.  NZ ran a state housing design competition in 2009 with many interesting and well thought through proposals which are now begin ignored. Is a nation with the technological skills to lead the world in movie making and boat design really incapable of producing anything more than the dreary and depressing designs currently proposed?