Out of the quake rubble rises a new 21st century Christchurch and a stronger garden city

As a former UK-Europe Bureau Chief NZPA media correspondent, Kip Brook is no stranger to putting his thoughts into words following a crisis. Now settled in Christchurch, Brook gives his take on the city's architecture and heritage, a fortnight after the quake 

Christchurch – Cracks down the walls; dinner sets shattered; large set of crystal glasses that will never hold Spy Valley Envoy chardonnay again; broken windows; broken china and old meat plates; water-damage inside from the swimming pool sloshing inside... 

That’s our house. Everyone has a quake-damaged story to tell. It’s post-quake Christchurch. We are fine and not too much damage compared to others. I head off to play Tony Thorpe and Daryl Gibson at squash. On the way I pass a set of shops reduced to rubble on Cranford Rd. Fifteen of the 18 shops on that corner are flattened or condemned because of the quake. Other shops face similar fate in Merivale. Down the road on Victoria St rows of old buildings are gone. It’s getting use to seeing big gaps on the landscape. But we’re ok; it’s a strong, stoic and hardened community. 

The saddest losses – other than people who have lost their homes in the substantial Christchurch earthquake – are the collapse of the city’s great old buildings. 

Some more than 100 years old were creatively-designed by brilliant architects, clever builders long before the 1930s Depression, before World War I and long before the Titanic sunk. 

These wonderful buildings had provenance, style, history and became iconic sites and landmarks for the people of Christchurch. 

Many people have yet to find out what has gone in the earthquake. The state of emergency was only lifted this week and people have been too busy sorting out their own homes or business and employment to enter the CBD so see what is left or what remains. 

Noted architect Peter Beaven made a plea in the wake of the quake not to bulldoze the grand old buildings too hastily. Christchurch has for too long traded heritage for profit as it has had much less regard for historic old landmarks or quality creatively designed buildings than other towns and cities. 

Parts of Christchurch have been lost forever because of the earthquake. Mayor Bob Parker appointed Wellington architect Ian Athfield as the architect-ambassador to oversee the rebuilding of Christchurch. 

Athfield is considered too contemporary by some for his more modern designs. He is an outstanding architect but there is a large movement in Christchurch of people wanting to retain what little is left of the city’s heritage. When a new university music building entre was planned for the Arts Centre the people of Christchurch threw out the proposal as they want to retain the historic feel of that precinct. 

Athfield told me a couple of years ago that New Zealanders seem to have an affinity with "buildings from their grandparents’ day rather than their parents’ era’’. 

Other parts of NZ are not exempt from showing disregard to stunning old buildings. Collangatta homestead at 464 Remuera Rd was flattened a few years ago. The same with 42 St Stephens Ave and 22A Jubilee Ave: which were both reduced to rubble. In Wellington, some of the most glorious homes on The Terrace were bulldozed to make way for high-rise. 

However, with the September 4 earthquake, Christchurch has lost more of its old heritage and great landmarks. One exception – and there will be many more - is the big old brick church on the corner of Rugby St and Papanui Rd in Merivale.  A big crane lifted the spire off the church and it is sitting neatly on the ground – waiting reconstruction and earthquake strengthening to its damaged building before returning to its lofty perch. 

So Christchurch is rebuilding – and it won’t be a post-earthquake city with a theme like art deco Napier – which has used it distinctive buildings as a major tourist attraction. Hardly a street remains in Christchurch – before or after the quake – that could be used as a movie set for an early 20th century movie full of character homes or buildings. 

The best in town was Lichfield St past High St but the area has suffered a lot of damage. It remains to be seen how vigilant authorities, the Earthquake Commission, architects, owners and deconstructors are in trying to save so many hold buildings under threat. 

Christchurch has survived the quake – many buildings are lost forever. But for clarity many parts of Christchurch are visually unaffected. Most people are positive and growing stronger as a result of what has happened. Some are suffering trauma; some are scared. Eleven days after the early morning quake, the city is still being struck daily by strong after-shocks which are jolting some people’s nerves. 

Some events have been postponed or cancelled – others are going ahead. Darfield – near the epi-centre of the quake, is pushing ahead with its art exhibition – Shake but Undeterred. 

Other art galleries have closed. Some many never reopen. Gallery O in the Arts Centre is closed – indefinitely. The Arts Centre buildings were once the Canterbury University campus . Today both sites remain closed because of the earthquake. But life in the city and in rural Canterbury goes on. The sun is shining. Christchurch will become a great city again, before long.



Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).