The Devastation and Rebirth of Christchurch, New Zealand


In the first few months after the quake the mood was positive. An ideas expo was held. The council unveiled a new plan for the city center. It focused heavily on low-rise buildings and green spaces. It remains to be seen whether it will become reality. Many Christchurch people remain uneasy about returning to high-rises – although many deaths occurred when poorly built lower buildings collapsed.

New ideas abounded for buildings and houses. Some engineers and designers maintained houses could be built to better withstand earthquakes and liquefaction. Solutions included base isolators for houses – much like giant shock absorbers already used for big public buildings and large-scale projects such as bridges. Another solution, already proven successful in some

houses, was for deeper concrete piles, up to 60 feet deep, that reach a solid rock base.

Some engineers, including at the University of Canterbury, believe that timber construction has a big future, due to its flexibility. Others insist that reinforced concrete remains the best building method. Bricks, heavyweight tiles roof, and stone, have fallen out of favor.

Demonstration houses, called Hive (Home Innovation Village) have been erected to showcase the advantages of prefabricated house construction. Another possible housing solution would be cohousing – individual houses but shared community gardens and meeting areas.

Shops built out of brightly painted shipping containers have opened in the City Mall in a project called Re:Start. But they are only temporary.

Big hurdles remain. As businesses relocated to the suburban fringe, roads have become gridlocked. Getting around, even in a city of less than 400,000, can be a nightmare. Bringing back mainline commuter trains and better public transportation have been suggested. There has been an overwhelming call for safe off-road cycle tracks.

So far, no large-scale plan for the whole region has been formulated: Where will people live? Where will they work? Where will they meet, dine, shop, relax? And how will they get there? Simply rebuilding the central city center won’t be enough.

Eventually, Christchurch may well be a better and more attractive city. But it’s a long arduous road, and a process that is likely to take decades to achieve.