Earlier this yearÂ I visited Christchurch at the end of a trip around New Zealand’s South Island. Although I was only in the city for a few hours, the small part of it I managed to see carried the weight of the recent tragedy that befall the city, but also a sense of optimism amongst the rebuilding of the downtown area most effected.
In September 2010 Christchurch was hit with aÂ 7.1 Richter Scale earthquake, devastating much of the city’s eastÂ and surrounding area and causing mass power outages. This was followed by several aftershocks, the most damaging being in February 2011 which measured 6.3 and resulted in the deaths of 185 people. Christchurch’s CBD had 80% of its area demolished in total.
Today, walking around the effected area, the devastation is still apparent, but so is the rebuild. It is often hard to see which buildings are coming down and which are going up. City blocks of nothing but rubble sit across seemingly untroubled green spaces. If the saying that adversity breeds character is true, then then the character of Christchurch and her people is one of resilience and ingenuity. Tragic as they have been, these events have given the people the opportunity to create a new way of living by the repurposing of old materials and use ofÂ green, renewable energy sources.
Perhaps the best example of this resourcefulness is the Re:START mall. A mall constructed of disused shipping containers in an effort to encourage retailers and customers back to the city centre as soon as possible. Since beginning with 27 businesses, the mall now houses over 50 permanent businesses as well as food stalls and buskers.
The Cardboard Cathedral was built after the destruction ofÂ the original cathedral and is one of a kind, being made substantially from cardboard and shipping containers. Described as a transitional cathedral, the building will eventually be replaced by a more permanent structure, but in the meantime serves as a reminder of Christchurch’s bright future.
185 empty chairs is both art installation and memorial to those lost. Amongst blocks of grey rubble and a few crumbling office buildings, sit 185 white painted chairs of all shapes and sizes. Dining table chairs, wheelchairs and children’s chairs amongst others represent the people from all walks of life who lost their lives to the earthquake. It is a somber but beautiful sight, and an insight to how a community has come together to both remember and move towards the future.