Transitional artworks helping to heal city

LEGACY: Helen Trappitt spent her own time developing Gap Filler art projects for the city.
LEGACY: Helen Trappitt spent her own time developing Gap Filler art projects for the city.

Helen Trappitt is raising a family but she's helping raise the city, too.

She works part-time as a structural engineer, around the needs of her growing family, but she is also involved in many prominent transitional artworks in the city.

In 2012 she approached Neil Dawson to see if he would be keen to design a sculpture for Christchurch.

That work, Spires, was installed in Latimer Square in February.

Conscious of the huge demand for engineering services and acknowledging that it is difficult for the city to justify spending money on public art, she undertook the majority of her project management work for Spires in her own time.

"My pre-schoolers often tagged along."

Dawson introduced her to artist Julia Morison which led to Trappitt undertaking the structural design of the Scape legacy sculpture Tree Houses for Swamp Dwellers, on the corner of Gloucester and Colombo Streets.

When she hasn't been helping to rebuild the city she's also been working on a castle for private owner Dot Smith, at Riverstone, north of Oamaru.

It has a moat, a secret passageway and battlements.

But it is Gap Filler projects which particularly strike her heart.

"I feel quite strongly about that. The main thing about Gap Filler is that it is not just about how it looks. It has performed a function in healing people of this city."

Trappitt worked with architect Amiria Kiddle to create the Intersection Point mural on the old Central Police Station for FESTA last year.

"This project was also low budget, but perhaps because of the former use of the building, it made it onto the Guardian Australia website in an article about travel to Christchurch."

In 2012 she instigated her own Gap Filler project.

With help from friends she turned a vacant site into a square similar to popular board game Monopoly.

"We had two wee green houses and a silver digger on the site," she says.

The mock board game on the old Cycle Trading Company site, near the corner of Manchester and Dundas streets, was inspired by many days spent looking at depressing aerial photos of the gap-toothed inner city.

"I worked on it with colleagues. Our draughtsman Geof Wilson went home to get a ladder to take a photo but we ended up sending him up in a helicopter. With everything donated, it was a cheap project and we did it in our spare time.

"I was going to try and find a silver car but I couldn't so we got the digger from March Construction."

It had a huge response on social media, receiving more than 30,000 views on the Christchurch EQ Photos Facebook page in just a few days.

"It went viral and I think it had a big impact because we did it to scale. I got stencils cut to do the writing so it could be as accurate as it could be. It's an example of a Gap Filler with bugger all budget and high impact."

At the 2013 Dulux Colour Awards in Melbourne, the DIY budget project was a finalist alongside major Australian projects.

Dulux colour expert Louise McKenzie-Smith described the design as a "clever and creative way to use colour and spare space to liven up the grim reality of the earthquake aftermath".

Blair Cunningham Construction built the houses which featured in the installation.

One playhouse is now at the builders' home and the other is on Trappitt's deck.

Her youngest daughter, Anna, loves it.

"Everyone needs a house. A safe house.'

The Press