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Warren and Mahoney’s Peter Marshall on why rebuilding Christchurch is not just an urban design or architectural exercise

Time will be the biggest challenge in rebuilding Christchurch. That’s according to Peter Marshall, managing director at Warren and Mahoney. But regardless of the time it takes, he says it’s imperative to incorporate local input into the rebuilding process, though he acknowledges government and nation-wide input is also critical as part of a wider framework of initiatives. 

“Unless there is that local connection and local level of input, it won’t gain the traction and the buy-in that it would otherwise,” says Marshall. “There’s a lot of very smart, clever, staunch people here in Canterbury. Everyone will want to make it work.” 

And doing its part to make it work, the national architecture practice, which was founded in Christchurch in 1955 by Sir Miles Warren, announced this week it has established a group of leading New Zealand urban planning, design and property services experts to begin considering the best way forward for the rebuilding of Christchurch following the 22 February earthquake. 

Initial members of the group are: 

  • Warren and Mahoney – architecture and interior design
  • Boffa  Miskell – environmental planning and urban design
  • Holmes  Consulting Group – structural and civil engineering
  • Colliers  International – commercial leasing and sales services
  • Wareham  Cameron + Co. – tenant advisory services
  • RCP  – project management 

Marshall says this preliminary group has been formed out of a sense of responsibility to the city. 

“...a careful and collective response is required, and that’s why we have partnered with other experts who also care deeply about rebuilding our city”. 

As an initial outcome, the group will develop a set of key design principles and long-term development scenarios for discussion with Christchurch stakeholders.

Don Miskell, managing director of Boffa Miskell, says the formation of the group was a logical response from the local planning and design community. 

“Civic leaders and government officials are rightly focussed on the immediate rescue and recovery mission,” says Miskell. “Forming the group and turning our minds to seeking integrated solutions by combining visionary thinking with a depth and breadth of development experience is one way that the interdisciplinary members thought we could contribute to the rebuilding of Christchurch." 

Marshall says the group will seek to work closely with Christchurch City Council—as well as central government—to ensure a co-ordinated approach is taken, and will recruit other members as its role evolves. 

But Marshall is quick to point out rebuilding is by no means all about architecture. 

“It’s not just an urban design or architectural exercise. The sound footing needed for the economics of it all—the commercial realities of letting buildings, leases etc—is so important, which is why it’s great to have someone like Colliers onboard.” 

He says the group wants to “float some positive thoughts about what Christchurch might need”. 

“What we found after the September quake is that it takes so long to work through the building issues. After this quake, it’s even more so because so much more information is needed. The whole geotechnical analysis of the city is probably necessary to determine if there are particular areas where we shouldn’t be building.” 

Warren and Mahoney has an office in Christchurch’s Victoria Street. Although its office wasn’t damaged, Marshall says the team can’t return because the adjacent buildings  are at risk of collapsing. In the meantime, the firm is basing itself out of temporary offices while it looks for a medium-term space to shift into. 

Taking it all in his stride, Marshall is optimistic about the city’s future, despite some choosing to leave the city.

“There’s an opportunity to redefine what the Garden City is for the 21 Century in Christchurch. That’s big thing.

“Yes, we’ve got a few people leaving the city. I’d like to think many of them will return, but obviously there will be some who wont. But I’m sure in the coming months the will to make this whole city the thriving city it used to be.”