Quake zone in transition gallery

Temporary shopping centres, gardens and churches have been among the good things produced in post-quake Christchurch. PHILIP MATTHEWS asks, how do we keep that transitional spirit alive?


Dame Malvina Major and the Cathedral choir gave a concert in the Transitional Cathedral on Saturday as part of the Joyfully Un-Munted series.

The Re:Start Mall in Christchurch has played a huge part in revitalising the city in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquakes.

The Inner Binding. Central Library on Peterborough St.

Comin' Down by Ronnie van Hout on the roof of Alice's Building.

The mural of a ballet dancer on the rear wall of the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch.

The mosiac chair in The Green Room, an installation on Colombo Street near St Asaph Street. Pilar Zuloaga, visiting from Spain, takes a seat.

A woman with a flower at the quake memorial opposite the CTV site.

The Retro Sports Facility makes use of the freshly-laid green space (where the Pavilion stood) at The Commons.

Court Theatre in Addington.

Gap Filler's Dance-O-Mat.

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Temporary shopping centres, gardens and churches have been among the good things produced in post-quake Christchurch. PHILIP MATTHEWS asks, how do we keep that transitional spirit alive?

A few weeks ago, we took the kids and took part in the new old Christchurch. Or is that the old new Christchurch?

There was lunch at Re:Start Mall followed by a look at the Ballantynes Christmas window then a walk up Colombo St, photographing street-art giraffes that we found along the way, before joining the long queue at the Vanilla Ice van in Victoria Square.

On a hot, dry day, the queue was unusually patient and just grateful to be taking part in an activity as banal yet meaningful as buying an icecream in central Christchurch.

It was unplanned but it became obvious that two of the activities were from the old pre-quake Christchurch and two were from the new transitional city. Ballantynes and Vanilla Ice are nostalgia experiences. The giraffes and Re:Start are about the transitional present.

A year ago, the centre of Christchurch felt like a dead zone. Walk around the city now and you notice that it is gradually becoming itself again. Some of the old has been repaired and has reopened and we are starting to see what the new will look like.

But should the move towards permanence come with a warning?

Visiting urban planner Brent Toderian wrote on Twitter that "There's a lot of rough, odd beauty in the broken city of Christchurch. It would be wrong to sweep it all away."

Similarly, visiting architecture professor Reed Kroloff talked of his admiration for the improvisational practicality he saw in the transitional Christchurch and the pride that locals had in it. He singled out Re:Start.

"I like your temporary shopping centre," he told an audience at the WORD Christchurch festival in August. "It's jaunty. It could have been crappy. The spirit of it should last."

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Kroloff's background is urban regeneration in New Orleans and Detroit, so this was meaningful praise.

But how will the temporary spirit last? Or will the bright and original experiments simply be packed up when the new glass and concrete city fully appears?

Discussions about which temporary projects should become permanent look at it the wrong way, argues Ryan Reynolds, chair of the Gap Filler Trust.

"It's not how do we make transitional projects permanent," Reynolds says. "It's about how we take some of the lessons we've learned about being more open-minded and grass-roots, and find ways of enabling that, rather than systematising everything."

The international umbrella labels "tactical urbanism" or "adaptive urbanism" cover most of the transitional projects we see in Christchurch.

They describe the pop-up stores, the temporary venues and other cheap, quick changes to the build environment.

A disaster is not necessary but it might help. Because so much of the city was cleared, and rebuilding stalled because of after-shocks and insurance, Christchurch became a unique laboratory for this kind of transitional work.

It also coincided with worldwide interest in transitional architecture. Allison Arieff wrote in the New York Times in 2011 that it was time to rethink what it means to be temporary.

"The architecture that's been making news is fast and fleeting: pop-up shops, food carts, marketplaces, performance spaces," she wrote.

In the same article, architect Robert Kronenburg said that temporary architecture "adapts to unpredictable demands, provides more for less and encourages innovation". He said it was time for building users, designers, architects, manufacturers and construction firms to reconsider temporary, portable and mobile architecture.

For Reynolds, the transitional is about giving yourself permission to experiment. The Dance-O-Mat is a good example. People told Gap Filler that Cantabrians would never dance in public yet it is still going more than two years later. At its peak, it was getting 6 1/2 hours' use a day.

"What should last forever is the process and the mindset," Reynolds says. "If we can find ways to incorporate that, to allow some space in the city for that exploratory mindset, it is possible that could happen within permanent developments."

It could be that courtyards or public spaces in the new city allow for this kind of activity.

Reynolds has recently been thinking about how property development could have the same community approach. It goes like this: The success of transitional projects has come from a lowering of the risk. So how do we lower the risk in property development, to create more exciting or public-friendly buildings?

Crowdfunding could be the answer. Rather than one or two people risking millions, what would happen if 2000 people risked $5000 each?

His immediate thoughts are to build something with public use, like a covered market. Or perhaps an easily replicable project like a hotel.

"Wouldn't it be an interesting experiment to get a couple of thousand people involved in creating a hotel?"

He has also parlayed his Gap Filler nous into advisory and consulting work. Councils elsewhere in New Zealand and in Australia ask him how the ground-level energy seen in Christchurch since 2010 can be generated in their own cities.

A Congress of Adaptive Urbanism in Christchurch this year shared the ideas behind our city's "incredible grassroots creative response of adaptive urbanisms," as the programme described it. Examples ranged from small community gardens to the temporary technology hub Epic.

Many of those involved in the congress have signed a group letter to Mayor Lianne Dalziel proposing that "adaptive urbanism becomes a permanent way of working that incorporates new methods of public participation and experimentation in order to strengthen Christchurch as a global exemplar of city-making, a city where citizens are put right at its centre".

Could this participation be one of the permanent and positive side-effects of the quake?

TRANSITIONAL TOP 10 Everyone has their favourites. These are 10 or so temporary projects that could happily stick around.

All of them have given Cantabrians some encouragement over the past three years and as we become a more permanent city again, we should find ways to take some of this transitional and experimental period with us.

1. THE TRANSITIONAL CATHEDRAL: Not just the biggest and best-known transitional project in Christchurch but arguably the city's most famous and important building. Big call? As architecture writer Andrew Barrie has noted, it is the only New Zealand building by a winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. When Shigeru Ban won the Pritzer in March, the jury spoke of how he responds with "creativity and high quality design to extreme situations caused by devastating natural disasters".

"His buildings provide shelter, community centres and spiritual places for those who have suffered tremendous loss and destruction."

The so-called cardboard cathedral was written up in both the New Yorker and the New York Times this year and Ban visited

Christchurch for the WORD festival where he spoke with humility and humour about his career and his vision. Since its conception in 2011, after being inspired simply by a glimpse of Ban's work in a design magazine, the cathedral has evolved from temporary to semi-permanent. It is expected to last at least 50 years and will become the parish church of St John's once the Anglican diocese either builds a new cathedral in the city or repairs the old one, which is expected to happen within the next 10 years.

2. RE:START MALL: The idea of a temporary "retail bridgehead" at City Mall was mooted just six weeks after the February 2011 earthquake but it is hard to appreciate how daring it seemed to a city still in shock. "As people get closer to the devastation, it will be a very emotional experience," Re:Start the Heart chairman John Suckling told the Press in October 2011 as the mall was set to open. "We just hope that we contribute a little bit towards making that slightly more positive."

More than just a little, as it turned out. Re:Start arguably changed the way Cantabrians and visitors felt about the devastated city and it remained the centre even as other cordoned-off areas opened.

Many doubted that shipping containers could make an attractive shopping centre. No-one imagined it would still be open for business three years later.

While it shifted in 2014 to enable rebuilding, it will last until 2016 at least. And, if you want to measure its influence, look at recently released images of the "South frame public realm" planned for St Asaph St, with its open spaces, planting and low-rise retail. It looks like Re:Start version 2.0.

3. CENTRAL PETERBOROUGH LIBRARY: Christchurch City Libraries' first post-quake outpost was a small shop in South City Mall, which held just 7000 items. That was in July 2011. The temporary library in Peterborough St followed in December 2011 and then the larger Central Tuam Library opened in July 2012 after more items were recovered from the ruined Central Library.

Central Tuam was a big success - it was adjacent to the temporary bus exchange and Re:Start - but it closed in November 2013 for the construction of the Justice and Emergency Services Precinct. A third of its collection and public computers shifted south to a less convenient spot in Manchester St.

The more spacious Peterborough St branch had nearly 86,000 items at September 2014, with a focus on newspapers and a children's collection. The Manchester St branch had nearly 47,000 items and contains the heritage, local history and family history collections.

Both will remain until 2017 when a new central library is expected to open.

4. PUBLIC ART: Ronnie van Hout's sculpture of himself on the roof of the C1 and Physics Room building is titled Comin' Down but it points upwards, like a preacher or a lightning conductor. It was installed in April 2013 but it already feels like a dependable feature of the Christchurch skyline.

Will it stick around? There is no end date, says Blair Jackson, deputy director of the Christchurch Art Gallery. The gallery would like to keep Comin' Down and Wayne Youle's mural in Sydenham, I Seem to Have Temporarily Misplaced My Sense of Humour, in place for the foreseeable future.

The Youle mural resembles a giant shadowboard from a workshop, with the silhouettes of familiar and sometimes less expected objects. It was a collaboration between the gallery and Gapfiller and once all parties know what will happen to the vacant site, a decision can be made about its future.

The idea of leaving it there and letting someone build in front of it has appeal. It could be a quake-era time capsule.

"I do quite like the idea of the work remaining," Jackson says. "Maybe it will be rediscovered in the future."

5. STREET ART: It would once have seemed counter-intuitive that staid Christchurch might ever be the New Zealand capital of something as immediate and even subversive as street art, but the Canterbury Museum's street art exhibition last summer was enormously successful as was the more surprising exhibition that took place at the same time on walls around the city.

That open-air exhibition will remain until property developers decide to build in front of the art, while a proposed street-art museum - which sounds like a contradiction - is one way in which this aspect of the transitional will last forever.

6. PLACE OF TRANQUILITY and THE GREEN ROOM: You can find Greening the Rubble's quiet transitional gardens in a number of places around Christchurch but we are particular fans of the Place of Tranquility on the former Canterbury Manufacturing Association site on the corner of Manchester St and Cambridge Tce. It is so quiet and hidden you could easily miss it.

For a time the site was marked by a large tree painted a vivid orange but the new garden urges contemplation. It is the first of a series of such places in a planned collaboration between Greening the Rubble and the Canterbury District Health Board.

As for the future, project co-ordinator Sarah Campagnolo says that Greening the Rubble has a two-year agreement with Cera for use of the land but as it is in a green designated zone near the river, it could easily become permanent.

Another Greening the Rubble site that appeals is the Green Room in Colombo St. This is a small, fenced, perfectly tended garden within the scattered rubble and improvised carparks of the Tuam St-St Asaph St block that is otherwise still in immediate post-quake mode. That means it looks like a garden in a war zone. The centrepiece is a chair decorated with quake-damaged crockery by community group Crack'd for Christchurch.

The garden will have to move once the block is developed but how about the chair?

"They are looking for somewhere it can sit permanently, preferably in a public space," Campagnolo says.

7. 185 EMPTY CHAIRS: A small group of German tourists was looking confused in Cathedral Square. Where is the outdoor earthquake memorial they had heard about? It turns out they meant artist Peter Majendie's installation 185 Empty Chairs in Madras St.

Majendie's idea was cheap and beautifully simple: a year after the February quake, 185 chairs representing those who died appeared on a vacant church site in Oxford Tce. They were painted white. Nearly three years after their first appearance, and after a shift south to Madras St, they continue to be a place of remembrance.

The land has been acquired for Cera for a proposed stadium. Majendie can confirm that the chairs will still be there at the next quake anniversary but he is unsure about its life beyond that.

"That's the problem," he says. "How does it end? I've often wondered how it will end."

There is a slim chance that it may not end. Majendie's idea has been incorporated in one of six shortlisted designs for a permanent quake memorial. The design features 185 empty chairs around a long table on which the names of the dead would be engraved.

8. THE RETRO SPORTS FACILITY: The Retro Sports Facility is a relatively new addition from Gap Filler at the Durham St site known as the Commons, which may still be best remembered for the incredibly successful Pallet Pavilion. That was a fine example of a transitional project that started as an experiment and almost became an institution.

Ryan Reynolds, chair of the Gap Filler Trust, is relaxed about the Commons' lifespan. Projects last as long as they need to and the Christchurch City Council could take the land back at any time or even sell it. "You always have to be prepared to decommission projects or move them on."

9. THE COURT THEATRE 'SHED': At the end of 2011, with its traditional home behind the cordon in the Arts Centre, the Court Theatre reopened in what quickly became known as "the Shed" near the railway lines in industrial Addington. It soon become clear that the temporary home was a more suitable and accessible theatre venue than the permanent one had ever been.

The next expected move is into the Performing Arts Precinct as outlined in the government's blueprint.

"With attendances of up to 150,000 a year [the Court] is a key attraction in activating the quarter," chief executive Philip Aldridge says. "Discussions with council and government are ongoing."

Aldridge adds that it is likely that the Shed will continue as a venue whether the Court moves or stays.

"We hope that the Shed in Addington will be a vibrant theatrical hub for many years to come - either as the home of the Court or as a home for touring shows, community theatre and festivals. It's a size of theatre which was much needed in the city before 2011, and the same need is still there today."

10. DANCE-O-MAT: A coin-operated washing machine that plays music from your iPod. This one was a surprise success.

"So many people said to us that people in Christchurch won't dance in public," says Gap Filler's Reynolds.

"We genuinely learned something about what people will and will not do, or what sort of relationship they have with their city. I could see something like the Dance-O-Mat becoming a permanent installation in Cathedral Square."

 - The Press

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