Grace, chaos in urban village designs

This "quirky and slightly chaotic" concept by Walker Architecture and Design and Ceres NZ has homes set around four village greens.
1 of 4
This "quirky and slightly chaotic" concept by Walker Architecture and Design and Ceres NZ has homes set around four village greens.
The Jasmax, Viva, Evergreen Realty and Latitude Group's "living village" concept uses natural materials and native plants to harness rainwater and capture the sun's energy.
2 of 4
The Jasmax, Viva, Evergreen Realty and Latitude Group's "living village" concept uses natural materials and native plants to harness rainwater and capture the sun's energy.
Design King Company Architects' design "would attract young professionals and students", say judges.
3 of 4
Design King Company Architects' design "would attract young professionals and students", say judges.
The Architecture Studio design was hailed by judges for its "simple elegance" and ability to foster community living.
4 of 4
The Architecture Studio design was hailed by judges for its "simple elegance" and ability to foster community living.

The urban village is Christchurch's most exciting architectural competition, and more than one design deserves to be built.

The air of eager anticipation was palpable. As architects, planners, and councillors mingled at the Christchurch City Council offices for the announcement of the finalists in Breathe - the urban village design competition - optimism reigned.

Outside, traffic may have been gridlocked, and buildings in the process of being demolished, and houses awaiting repair, but this indeed was a breath of fresh air.

Mayor Bob Parker described the competition as "something extraordinary and exciting". An inner-city dweller himself, Parker said it offered an opportunity for "living in a village in the heart of your city".

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson said "the whole world is looking for ways to make cities more liveable". He suggested that perhaps it's time for Kiwis to reconsider the traditional dream of "a standalone bungalow on a quarter-acre section" in favour of European concepts of inner-city living.

One architect queried drily whether these views represented new Government policy. Good question. We certainly need better housing solutions and urban planning.

Yes, lots of stuff needs fixing, but the urban village competition truly is a milestone for Christchurch, and it's worth taking time to explore the entries in detail.

There are 58 of them from around the world as well as New Zealand, including Australia, the United States, Europe (including Ukraine and Bulgaria), Egypt, Japan, China, Iran, India, and Indonesia. If you love looking at architecture, take a trip to Worcester Boulevard and see the display boards, or log on to the Breathe website (newurbanvillage.org.nz).

Four entries have been named as finalists and three commended. The winner will be chosen in October and construction will begin on the former Charlie B Backpacker's site in December.

From architect Roger Walker, of Walker Architecture and Design, with Ceres NZ Development, is a design described as "quirky and slightly chaotic". It has an almost 70s feel with its towers, and also sports a public cafe, marketplace, and vegetable allotments.

Another finalist is the plan by Jasmax, Viva Project, Evergreen Realty and Latitude Group Development which is highly detailed - a real village community. Sloping roof-mounted photovoltaic panels are a feature, and there is an emphasis on low water use, walking and cycling, and food production.

Ganellen, the University of Technology Sydney and Design King Company Architects, of Australia, came up with a plan judges hailed as a finalist for offering "edgy urban living". I am not sure what that means, but it looks well developed and mature.

The concept sketch even depicts modern light rail.

"Simple elegance" characterises the chosen plan by Architecture Studio Anselmi Attiani Associated Architects, Cresco Group and Holloway Builders, representing Italy and New Zealand. Harmonious forms, colours, and materials echo European cities.

Other entries are also fascinating; some definitely more practical than others. Some look quite fantastical.

Greeen! Architects (yes, three es), of Germany, has a big emphasis on energy and uses wooden construction.

Local firm Wilson & Hill, with Crosson Clarke Carnachan, references traditional architecture while incorporating a sculpture and a public plaza.

Whimbrell Design's proposal has elements of Cranmer Courts and the Provincial Government Building.

The Hallion Design entry from New Zealand and Britain (with All Design Ltd, and Infratil Infrastructure Property Ltd, which is quite a mouthful) were commended for their unusual design featuring pitched roof houses within a flat roof frame. "Looks like a parking building," said one critic. You have to ask: Why?

Woll, Collier, of Australia and New Zealand, devised a leaning tower that looks like a pile of coins about to topple over.

Raid Architecture, of Egypt, came up with a series of buildings with grassed roofs curving down to the ground. Great for skateboarders.

Middlearth, from Zedfactory, of Britain, looks like hobbit houses but is also ultra-energy efficient and is also designed to deflect the force of an earthquake.

Architectural designer Steve Hutana was on hand to explain the Maori and Pacific Island influences in his Starfish design. The beautiful organic latticework and rounded buildings look like works of art.

Only one of the four finalists will be built, but many designs could offer practical living solutions for Christchurch. The planned site is not the easiest. Why not also use other sites, such as the derelict saleyards?

One of the judges, landscape architect Di Lucas, has launched her own Mixed Use Ideas Competition for Peterborough Village, or Pita Kaik. Prince Charles will help judge the entries, which close tomorrow (March 7).

Many factors will influence the success of such projects.

Not least is the question: Would you like to live there? Go see the latest designs on display and decide for yourself.

Designs will be on display at Worcester Boulevard until March 29. See: newurbanvillage.org.nz.

Have your say on architecture and the Christchurch rebuild. Email letters@press.co.nz.

The Press