What will our quake memorial be?

16:00, Feb 21 2013
Holocaust Memorial
The Holocaust Memorial, in Berlin, properly known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, is spread over 19,000 sqm (4.7 acres) of uneven land near Brandenburg Gate. It consists of 2711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern through which visitors can wander. The slabs, perhaps evoking coffins, are the same length and width, but vary in height. ‘‘The enormity and horror of the Holocaust are such that any attempt to represent it by traditional means is inevitably inadequate,’’ wrote the memorial’s creator, New York architect Peter Eisenman. The design ‘‘suggests that when a supposedly rational and ordered system grows too large and out of proportion to its intended purpose, it in fact loses touch with human reason,’’ he wrote. The Berlin memorial has critics. ‘‘It doesn’t say anything about who did the murdering or why — there’s nothing along the lines of ‘‘by Germany under Hitler’s regime,’’ and the vagueness is disturbing,’’ wrote Richard Brody in the The New Yorker magazine.

Two years ago today, more than 180 people died across Christchurch.

The city was a disaster site, but it was also many separate disaster sites - some with huge losses of life, some which claimed a single life.

All were tragedies, but how does a city recognise and remember them all?

Hurricane Katrina memorial
A Hurricane Katrina memorial in Biloxi, Mississippi. The mosaic represents a wave, the 12-foot black wall the height of the storm surge at this place and the glass case contains personal items belonging to victims.

We will know in about three years' time, when an official earthquake memorial is unveiled.

No part of the project is easy.Grief, remembrance and memory are different for everyone, and realising a single entity to cater to all will be difficult.

Lincoln University associate professor of landscape architecture Jacky Bowering says international trends point to a memorial ''more like a place rather than a thing''.


''They don't tend to be statue on a podium. They tend to be more something that require you to experience them.

''Often it requires you to participate a lot more than if you just go in there and read a plaque ... and you move on without necessarily feeling anything."

Christchurch should follow the trend of a memorial as a space, Bowering says, and learn from recent errors.

''The memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin is essentially a kind of a landscape that you can walk through. The ... disorientation you feel is intentional on the part of the designer,  to evoke feelings. It's not possible to represent it in a simple way.

Equally, a ''kneejerk'' commemoration of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, in Biloxi, Mississippi - the product of a reality television show - was a lesson in what not to do.

''[It was] well-intentioned but a very superficial kind of memorial,'' she says.

''You can see that over time it's going to become quite tired, it's not going to keep giving people opportunities to explore their own responses to things. It's very literal in its interpretation. That's the sort of thing if it happens too quickly.''

Timing is tricky: too soon and emotions are raw, too late and people forget.

Christchurch's five-year plan, culminating on February 22 2016, is about right, Bowering says.

''We're pretty much in the middle of not being too rushed and not taking too long.

''We have a very complicated situation in terms of those who are involved. A very international group of victims. It's not just us here in Christchurch.''

The Press