Christchurch Cathedral Square’s ambitious new design unveiled

Regenerate Christchurch has released its plan to redesign the quake-damaged centre of the Christchurch city – Cathedral Square – to the public. It says its aim is to ensure the space is transformed from being seen as “damaged and uninviting” and returned to its original purpose – a gathering place for locals and visitors alike.  

Although Cathedral Square is the heart of the city, it has been the site of building cordons, vacant parking lots and demolition and construction zones, creating the perception that it’s somewhere to be avoided.

In its long-term vision report, the organisation says poor public perception is a key aspect the redesign wants to change.

The new design shows a series of three interconnected meeting spaces where public events can be hosted, featuring lots of greenery, water and cultural signifiers.

These include Post Office Place (an open-air events space), Library Plaza (a ‘flexible, social’ space beside the new library) and the Cathedral Gardens (a series of landscaped gardens).

This keeps options open for activities that could happen in the Square, such as markets or concerts.

“Social regeneration is the key to success, providing places for people. This could be a spectacular pavilion, covered space, or simply a well-appointed event space,” it says.

Another aspect to change via the design is to bring more greenery to the fore. Regenerate Christchurch says Cathedral Square long had cold, grey urban environments that hid the indigenous ecosystem, but now there is an opportunity to weave the natural environment in through landscaping.

A greener city is something that also received overwhelming support from the public during its ‘Share an Idea’ campaign.

There is also the possibility raised of including more cultural signifiers via three enclosed pavilions that resemble a korowai (cloak) or spider’s web that represent ‘baskets of knowledge’.

Paving designs were inspired by the cathedral roof and have a pātiki (flounder) design integrated into it, which reflects the focus on whānau and community.

The concepts have been developed over the past 18 months with planning and buy-in from Cathedral Square property owners, business groups, Ngāi Tūāhuriri, the public and other key stakeholders.

Regenerate Christchurch chief executive Ivan Iafeta says the design proposed is aspirational (and according to The Press, has a $60 to $80 million price attached to it) but the social regeneration of the Square can be made to happen at an earlier date so people can return there as soon as possible.

“There is already significant investment occurring around the Square. The most practical way to support that investment is to commit to a long-term vision over time while, in the meantime, getting more happening there and making it a place for the people again.”

Iafeta says with the restoration of the Anglican Cathedral also happening, the Square redesign will need to happen in stages as funding allows. The new central library, called Tūranga, is also currently being built on the North side of the Square, as is the Convention Centre.

Redson Corporation has also made a commitment to house its new Aotea Gifts building on the south side, while Nexus Point has committed to its Spark building.

Iafeta says Regenerate Christchurch will now work with Christchurch City Council to develop the plan.

“To be regenerated, the Square cannot remain symbolic of the city’s loss and instead needs to be a strong symbol of the vibrant future of the centre of our city. The long-term vision will provide the impetus and drive for the public and private sectors to work toward a common goal,” he says.

“But it’s not just about new things. It is about people, and we need to get on with making the Square a place for the people again.”

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