Sunday 22 May 2011

Rise Up Christchurch*

It's been three months now since the Christchurch earthquake. The figures are appalling: $15 billion in losses and costs, making it proportionally twice as costly as Japan's quake and tsunami. In the central city there are 900 buildings to be demolished; in the suburbs, over 200,000 badly damaged homes. There are 300 km of broken sewers. And then there are the 185 people who died, and those who've had limbs amputated and other serious injuries.

There was a telethon on TV, the usual thing with celebrities doing silly things and urging viewers to donate, which they did; and there were also heartening accounts of survival, endurance and community spirit. Everyone has ideas about how to rebuild the city, and right now the main feeling is for low-rise, naturally enough with memories of the CTV and PGG buildings so fresh. It looks as though there's going to be some spirited debate about the Cathedral and the other signature buildings that everyone knew and loved: rebuild as they were, or replace?

There seems to be an idea that to put them back as they were would be architecturally dishonest and unimaginative, especially as they were anyway only mock-Gothic, built in the second half of the 19th century; and that the result would be fake. But that's what they did in Germany, when they lost so much of so many cities. Most of what I was delighted by and took photos of last week was reproduction, rebuilt in the 1950s and later to look medieval, reconstructions of buildings that had been destroyed. Evidently much of those half-timbered frontages with their decorated plaster and slate roofs are literally facades, with modern buildings behind. Is that dishonest?

There are plenty of new buildings, towers of glass and concrete, that architects presumably took pride in designing - but they aren't what I wanted to record in photographs; and they aren't what would have given the citizens comfort and reassurance after they had lost so much during the war. I do so hope that the people who rebuild Christchurch give at least equal weight to emotion, as to intellect.
* I'm afraid I don't know who to credit for this amazing photo taken from the Port Hills of the city at the moment of the 22 February earthquake, when Christchurch history split instantly into Before and After.


the queen said...

It would be dishonest if Germany claimed those were old buildings, instead it's just fashion. I often wonder why the extensions to old buildings and old churches don't put a little effort into actually looking old.

TravelSkite said...

The guides were quite open about the buildings not being genuinely old. The 'modern' 1950s and '60s constructions in comparison were hideously unsympathetic.

I'm with Prince Charles on this one: remember his "monstrous carbuncle" comment?


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