Epic building will soon be cherished

Last updated 05:00 26/11/2012

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OPINION: Christchurch's short and long-term future was boosted by the opening of the Enterprise Precinct Innovation Centre (Epic) last Thursday.

It begins the process of gathering similar businesses into defined areas of the new central business district and concentrates the technology innovation that will have to play a central role in the region's economy if prosperity is to be maintained.

The black building that houses Epic has gained attention because of what critics call its ugliness - a worrying harbinger of the monstrosities that will populate the rebuilt Christchurch.

Ugliness, though, is in the eye of the beholder and has been the accusation brought against almost all major buildings constructed in this city. Those structures - the town hall, for instance - came to be cherished, and so will be the Epic centre.

Its virtues will soon be recognised: its references to that Canterbury icon, the woolshed, in terms of its shape and cladding of corrugated iron, make it very much at home. Its lack of pretension meshes with the New Zealand psyche. It reminds the historically literate of the tin shed in which the city's most brilliant scientific innovator, Ernest Rutherford, as a young man did experiments at Canterbury College.

Those virtues and complaints associated with the Epic building, though, count for little because Colin Andersen and Wil McLellan, whose project Epic is, intend the structure to be temporary, to be replaced eventually with a more ambitious building. In stroppy Christchurch, that demolition and replacement will also arouse comment.

What will be more long lasting is the precincts that are being pioneered by Epic. Retail, entertainment, medicine, performance, law and order and emergency services are to follow. Retail is already about to get off the ground, with developers competing for the space around Cashel and Lichfield streets.

Precincts were one of the strong themes in the consultation with citizens about the form of the new Christchurch and the blueprint delivers on the wish - delivers with a vengeance it might seem.

A cursory look at the plan suggests ventures are locked into a grid from which they cannot escape, but that is not so. What is planned is that core enterprises, such as police and courts, will be sited together, but that does not mean lawyers, for instance, will be required to become their neighbours. Nothing will stop them hanging their shingle where they like, but many will want to be within the shade of the courts for convenience's sake.

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That sort of concentration is common to cities and will be in the new Christchurch but strict regulation to enforce precinct purity would be undesirable. Cities need fuzzy boundaries - a mixing of business and living areas, and types of people, if they are to be lively and have a heartbeat that never stops. Christchurch planners must allow that diversity.

Even with technology diversity will come about, as some firms will want the comparative seclusion of the outer industrial estates rather than the concentrated atmosphere of the Epic area.

Wherever they are placed they will be part of the city's economic backbone, as technology increases as a major employer of talent and creator of wealth. It is already transforming Christchurch's business base and, with the help of such enterprises as Epic, will continue to do so.

- The Press

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