Monday, July 8, 2013

Christchurch City: Two Years On

Miss 12 has been working on this photo essay for a couple of weeks now. It evolved out of a simple idea - to mark Camera Day  (29 June) by taking a walk through our city centre, taking photos as we went. I thought it deserved a slightly wider audience than immediate family so here it is.


On February 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm Christchurch was hit by a 6.3 earthquake. One hundred and eighty five people died, mainly in the collapse of two buildings; the Canterbury Television  (CTV) building , where 115 people died,  and the Pyne Gould Corporation building, where 18 people lost their lives. Significant damage had already been caused in an earlier 7.1 magnitude quake, which occurred on September 4, 2010, at 4:35 am. Two further earthquakes greater than magnitude 6.0 struck in 2011 - one in June and the other in December.  There have been thousands of other quakes as well - more than four thousand quakes greater than magnitude 3 since September 2010. That's a lot of shaking and it has all caused devastating damage, especially in the city centre and some of the eastern suburbs. Out of respect for the residents still living in  challenging conditions, we decided not to take photos in the suburbs.

More than two years on, and signs of the earthquake damage and deconstruction are everywhere. One example is this plinth on which a statue of  Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott used to rest. Scott had used Christchurch and the surrounding area as his training base. His statue was thrown off the plinth in the February earthquake and was saved from destruction only by the grass surrounding it. The statue is awaiting repair.

Prior to the earthquakes, if you had walked around the central city you would have seen men in suits, tall office blocks, plenty of cars on the roads and other normal sights. Now, if you take the time to walk around, you are likely to see construction workers in hi-viz vests and hard hats, cranes demolishing buildings, construction signs and containers propping up compromised walls. And road works - they're everywhere!

Many buildings  suffered structural damage and have since been demolished, leaving piles of rubble, mounds of tangled metal and numerous empty lots.

But there are also many signs that Christchurch is progressing forwards. In some of the empty lots, an organization called Gap Filler has been doing just that – filling the gaps in with creative projects.
One is Gap Golf, a series of mini golf courses spread around the city in empty lots. Some of the holes are really hard but it's a lot of fun.

Another is Community Chess, an outdoor chess board where you can come along and play. 

Yet a third is the book exchange, an old  fridge filled with books. You can put a book in for someone else to select, and choose one yourself to take home.  

Gap Filler has also given newly-exposed blank walls a makeover.

The Christchurch City Council has also been making an effort to bring people back into the central city. One of their transitional projects is the outdoor reading room, just across the road from the site of the proposed new central library. It is composed of some giant furniture covered with fake grass - two chairs, a sofa and a coffee table.

All the grey lots and piles of rubble make the central city empty and dull. This doesn't really fit in with. Christchurch's nickname - the Garden City. Thankfully organisations like Greening the Rubble have given some of the sites a makeover, planting many small gardens.



As a result of all the demolished buildings there aren't many buildings left in the city centre for business to operate out of and it could be years before they are permanently replaced. In the meantime creative temporary solutions have sprung up around the city. The Re:Start Container Mall is a mall made out of shipping containers. While more permanent buildings are being built this may take some time, so companies can relocate their business in the mall in the meanwhile. 

Another great project is the Pallet Pavilion, a temporary events venue made out of pallets. To cover the costs of keeping it running, some people have “brought” a pallet. The money goes into the pavilion’s upkeep, and the person gets to have their name painted on one of the pallets. 

One wall of the Pallet Pavilion with the stage in front.

While these new, temporary initiatives are great, it's also nice to have some existing buildings fully restored and re-opened. Last month the mall on New Regent Street  - built in the 1930s in the Spanish Mission style - was opened to the public for the first time since the quakes. Just last week, the Registry building was the first in the Arts Centre to be restored. There is still a lot more work to be done before the whole Arts Centre is restored.

The New Regent Street Boutiques

The Registry Building

Restoration in progress on the Arts Centre

The Anglican ChristChurch Cathedral is Christchurch's most iconic building. It was badly hit in the February quake, and there is raging debate over whether it is possible to restore it, or whether to demolish it entirely. In the meantime, Christchurch's Transitional "Cardboard" Cathedral is being constructed. Its completion is an exciting prospect for the people of Christchurch.

The front of ChristChurch Cathedral. The steeple toppled over in the February quake.

The Cardboard Cathedral's front.

A close-up of the long cardboard rolls used in the Cathedral

While Christchurch is moving forwards, we will never forget the people who died. A sobering sight is the 185 Chairs memorial. On 185 square meters of lawn there are 185 different chairs, symbolizing the people who died. Fresh flowers are still always arranged on the fence surrounding the CTV site, where the most people lost their lives. A more permanent memorial is being planned.

The city centre is very different from what it was before the earthquakes. While it will never be the same again there are many exciting new features with plenty more to come.


  1. I love the quirkiness--and of course the fridge filled with books. The devastation is mind-blowing! Wow! I could never have imagined that. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Thank you for sharing her photo essay with us! She did an excellent job of painting a picture of the devastation that hit your area and also of the creative and industrious spirit of the people and their commitment to rebuild. Prayers for all who are still struggling with the effects of those earthquakes!