Concrete jungle

i have just spent an incredible two days in Christchurch. Words can not describe the scene I saw but I'll try: Apocalyptic, war zone, disaster.

These very strong words go some way to describe the visual scene. As a designer I see the devastation but I also see the opportunity.

The scale and scope of the rebuild is like having to rebuild 10 Blenheims.

There is crushed and broken concrete as far as the eye can see. Diggers, trucks and cranes swing, sweep and sway where once people shopped, lived and worked. It is a city of machines, a city of the future.

But amid all this heavy machinery and rubble the vegetation survives and flourishes.

Firstly and most importantly there is a mandate to protect existing trees where possible.

When we build landscapes here in Marlborough we try to do this too, but we do not use 60 tonne diggers and we do not demolish 30-story buildings.

It is hard enough when we do it, so hard hats off to the operators who protect them, and the council who made the ruling.

It was a real surprise to see such delicacy amid such devastation. Very surreal. But I think it is a good omen for things to come.

The new plan for Christchurch is for a much greener city.

It was green before and hence its name, The Garden City.

The reasons behind it are simple.

Much of the land around the Avon river and in the east is not suitable for building.

The second type of vegetation that prevails in the rubble is weeds.

I have watched Life After Man, but I never thought I'd see it for myself.

There are areas of the CBD where demolition work has not yet commenced, where the weeds are literally taking over. It really looks like the end of the world, when streets have been colonised and taken over.

It has not even been two years since the earthquakes, yet the power of nature is consolidating its grasp on parts of the city.

But not for long. Only 10 per cent of the CBD, (the area inside the four avenues) will remain as it was.

So the weeds will get scooped up and disposed of and man will dominate once more.

The designs of these huge open spaces are very encouraging.

The future of the Christchurch landscape looks like it will cutting edge and world class, just like the city itself. The landscaping of the new city is at the very core of its success.

Suppose we see Christchurch as The Garden City or perhaps just The Garden.

If so, it is important to remember the basic principles of good garden design. Christchurch will, for all intents and purposes, be a super-sized garden.

There will of course be areas such as the justice precinct, the commercial precinct, the health precinct, the innovation precinct, the sports precinct and the retail precinct, as well as The Square, The Oval and The Frame.

These are not your normal garden zones, but imagine them as if they were individual elements of a normal garden, only bigger!

These individual elements need to be sympathetic to each other and to existing parts of the city.

They need some conformity. Where does this conformity come from?

It comes from the new swathes of green, which will one day appear on Google Earth, around the Avon river, Hagley Park and The Frame. They are the key to the success of the rebuild.

Each individual construction project will be important, but they are individual elements.

The new city will be so much more than these. It will be the sum of the individual elements but these will be bonded together by the matrix that is the greater landscape.

The open green public spaces are really just the start.

Don't forget the private green spaces that surround tens of thousands of damaged homes in the suburbs. There is much to do and we, here in Marlborough, seem so very far removed from it all, but we are not. We are just up the coast and one day it could be us!

Those readers who want to find out more about, or see more images of my visit to Christchurch can email me at or visit my website

The Marlborough Express