Festa: Christchurch's transitional street party returns

Street party with a difference. Festa 2014 included this very cool installation called Orbis.
Peanut Productions

Street party with a difference. Festa 2014 included this very cool installation called Orbis.

The Festival of Transitional Architecture returns next weekend. WILL HARVIE unpacks the layers of a unique Canterbury event. 

Festa has many layers, says director Jessica Halliday. For most people, the street party on the Saturday night of Labour Weekend is the whole of the festival. 

That's when 18 teams of architecture students from Australia and New Zealand will erect temporary structures, light them in weird and wonderful ways, often add a rocking sound track, and invite the public to enter for wonder and delight.

The Festival of Transitional Architecture is worth a look.
Peanut Productions

The Festival of Transitional Architecture is worth a look.

Think of the installation called Orbis, from the 2014 version of the Festival of Transitional Architecture (Festa): Hundreds of dangling cloth sleeves carried water balloons and were lit in a lovely deep blue. The irresistible urge was to swing these soft weapons at friends and strangers and share the belly laughs as they plopped into heads and torsos.

Another example from 2014 was called Equilibrium, a huge cube of diaphanous white cloth lit up with video and blasting music – a pop-up night club that brought out the dancers.  


Festa focuses on sustainability and the reuse of waste materials, says director Jessica Halliday. Check it out at the ...
Will Harvie

Festa focuses on sustainability and the reuse of waste materials, says director Jessica Halliday. Check it out at the Christchurch Art Gallery on Labour Weekend.

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Festa street party returns to Christchurch
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And that kind of thing will happen again at this year's Festa street party. A team of seven from Unitec's Department of Architecture, for example, has taken inspiration from glow worm caves and will create a "large-scale abstraction of the unique light quality of [that] natural phenomenon".

Another team will drape frost cloth over 44 metres of colonnade to create a pop-up restaurant. 

Architecture students played with light and form at Festa 2014. Expect something similar this Labour Day weekend in ...
Peanut Productions

Architecture students played with light and form at Festa 2014. Expect something similar this Labour Day weekend in Christchurch.

Add jugglers, buskers, street artists, food trucks, perhaps some wine or beer, and the area around the Christchurch Art Gallery on the Saturday night promises to be better entertainment than the likely demolition of the Wallabies by the All Blacks on the same night.

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The street party officially runs 5pm-11pm and young families can catch the action before bedtime, but the installations are best after dark, when the light show is fully underway. The sun sets at 8pm.

About 10,000 people visited Festa's main event in 2015 and organisers estimate 50,000 have attended Festa events in 2012, 2013 and 2014. There was no festival last year. 

For those who care to peer more closely, the layers promised by Halliday will become apparent – and last the entire long weekend.

The theme of this year's Festa is sustainability and the reuse of waste materials in design, says Halliday. The student installations all use materials like would otherwise go to the tip, including plastic bags, plastic bottles, milk crates, and cardboard carpet cores.   

"We think ingenious, beautiful and functional architectural and social design solutions can be created using existing resources, materials and systems," says Dutch architect Jos de Krieger, creative director of the Saturday night's main event. "Everything is already there, we just have to see and utilise it."

De Krieger's architectural firm, Superuse Studios, is well known for recycling materials into permanent architecture. It has, for example, recycled windmills into a playground and public seating. The wind turbines were made from glass fibre, epoxy resin and the like and can't be recycled at the moment, so reusing them whole was desirable.

That ethic informs this year's Festa, albeit with temporary projects. Students creating an installation called Cumulonimbus, for example will suspend inflated plastic shopping bags to create a cloud effect. "The identity of the plastic bags, when inflated, is disguised in the beauty of the cloud-like mass," the team from University of Adelaide write. "But when the bags start to deflate and rain down to the ground this beauty is diminished, and the true identity of the harmful waste is exposed."

To further the point, the Adelaide students have brought in Plastic Bag Free Otautahi, a lobby group, and Zero Bag, which makes plastic bag alternatives from expired parachutes – truly – to educate visitors.

The bigger point isn't that Cantabrians should be using plastic bags, say, as a permanent materials in their homes, says Halliday, but to get people thinking more deeply about recycling generally. She wants us to "super use" more permanent materials before they are dumped.

After the pop up restaurant closes, for example, the frost cloth will be donated to Otakaro Orchard, which is building a permanent urban farm on Cambridge Tce. 

Festa is also picking up Superuse Studio's Harvest Map, which identifies and locates waste materials in Europe and now Canterbury. Think you can use PVC pipe offcuts or decommissioned firehose? The Harvest Map tells you where to get them. 

It's difficult to incorporate waste materials into new projects if people don't know what's available, de Krieger said.

One of Christchurch's leading recycling voices, Juliet Arnott, naturally has a major role at Festa this year. She's the founder of Rekindle – which made furniture from salvaged red zone timber – and Whole House Reuse – which recycled one entire red zone house into beautiful and useful objects in an exhibition at Canterbury Museum last year.

On Labour Weekend next to the art gallery, Arnott and students from Ara's School of Architectural Studies are creating a Village of Resourcefulness. Amid a structure of woven hazelwood, skilled craftspeople will make high quality, zero waste crafts such as wooden spoons. Others will weave, work textiles and make prints.

The team will also create a map of package-free goods in Christchurch, identifying where people can "get the basics of daily life without packaging", Arnott says. The village will operate most of Saturday and Sunday, as well as during the street party.

Arnott is also leading a day-long symposium on the Monday about wastefulness and resourcefulness. Designed for professionals, civil servants, architects, planners and the like, it will delve deep into Festa themes and attempt to spur more large-scale recycling.

Meanwhile, other layers will be added throughout the long weekend. WikiHouse is holding an open day to discuss its high performance house research; a student from Melbourne's School of Design will consider Christchurch's lost heritage; kids can make mutant monsters from pre-loved toys and Generation Zero will host a Beer and Banter session to talk climate change. 

On Friday, there will be a food market in Cathedral Square (11am-9pm), a DJ-ed disco at the Dance-O-Mat  (8pm-11pm). Monday night features the 29th PechaKucha Christchurch session. 

Some of these events require booking and a few levy a fee. See festa.org.nz for more details and other layers not mentioned in this article. Rain date for the street party is Sunday.

Meanwhile, find some layer of Festa that suits your tastes. 

 - Stuff


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