Ideas to Remember

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Published on: August 16, 2014

It strikes me that the terms of reference for the CERA earthquake memorial project almost entirely miss the point.
http://cera.govt.nz/news/2014/site-confirmed-for-canterbury-earthquake-memorial-12-july-2014

Why are we limiting proposals to the location selected?

The riverside site represents a number of quite profound social and architectural deficiencies and lost opportunities for any disaster memorial of international stature.

The worst is that the result will be tidied safely away from the psychic ‘epicentre’ of the event, and away from day to day street life. Very much robbed of any visceral power it might otherwise have if integrated into the urban fabric of the new CBD.

Hiroshima while rebuilding managed to preserve a poignant ruin of a whole building in the middle of what was left of their city, and Pompeii, by preserving many entire streets of buildings has huge resonance for visitors today.

Pompeii

Why would the organisers of this event conclude that for a memorial installation commemorating the earthquakes that effectively obliterated our city, with the profound rift and disconnect between our past and future built environments that this loss represents, that it would be inappropriate to preserve at least some of the ruined fabric from the old CBD? Would this really be too confronting or difficult for the people of Christchurch to achieve?

Why can we not preserve even a whole streetscape in it’s ruined state – for example the remaining portion of High Street (for which redevelopment is not likely soon anyway)? This would bring home the raw impact of the event to our descendants and visitors in a way that no secluded memorial sculpture can capture, and will represent a significant and dramatic tourist attraction to offset the draw of the heritage fabric we have lost.
This part of town, in its ruined state, now possesses extraordinary architectural richness, power and value – a state we are never likely to recapture deliberately.
We have urban fabric here with hard earned ‘patina’ that would otherwise take perhaps a thousand years of hard living to replicate. How is it that for such a young country we do not see the value and importance of this resource?

Beyond preserving this street scape, surely we should be endeavouring to capture and preserve ruined walls, foundations and other artifacts right around the CBD, and integrating these into our new built fabric in any number of ways? Expanses of ruptured and buckled paving left as is; small alleyways between shattered brick walls embedded in modern concrete as a retreat from the day to day hubbub of 22nd century street life , perhaps leading past some poignant spot (perhaps with poetry); Old foundations visible through the surface of new paved plazas; ruined columns framing small green spaces where office workers can eat their lunches; old damaged facades facing new buildings …

Perhaps a sense of overwhelm is behind the current desire to sanitize, and why we are so apparently unconcerned with preserving visceral traces of the event? Or is it just oblivious insensitivity to the extraordinary yet rapidly vanishing resource and opportunity we now have?

The desire expressed by many to ‘move on’ from disaster is restricted to the current generation only – our children and their descendants will very much regret the loss of this tangible and rich patina that could otherwise enliven and inform their built environment.

Paul King Architect | Christchurch | New Zealand | (03) 383 4592 | www.prime.net.nz

Christchurch ratepayers forced to fund obstruction of own building projects?

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Published on: December 23, 2011

Be warned, this article is something of a personal rant.

I was advised by the Christchurch City Council recently that the processing of a Building Consent application I had lodged for a client could not proceed, because I had filled in a downloaded application form obtained from them in August 2011, when I should have been using an updated version of the same, changed in November 2011.

The form had been slightly rearranged to accommodate a single new tick box item, asking whether the job was earthquake repair related.

Neither the fact that I was able to immediately inform the processing officer concerned that “no, this job is not earthquake related”, nor the fact that the drawings & specification in front of her clearly did not refer to any earthquake remedial work, nor the fact that she was otherwise staring right at all the pertinent application information, on the original form, seemed to be of significance.

She was unimpressed by the sense of injustice I expressed at the lack of any expiry date or warning about checking for updates on the original form, or indeed on the Council’s own download web page for the form.

She could not, when pressed, identify any flaw with the information provided, or any tangible benefit to council or the client in my resubmitting the same information on an updated form, but it seems they are ‘Quality Management Accredited’, and they get Audited you see….

Rather than manually adding a quick note to the file, and telling me to use the new form next time and otherwise just getting on with it, it seems Council would remain paralysed with the uncertainty of it all, refusing to process any further – unless I (between expletives) downloaded the new form, filled it out again from scratch, saved it as a new PDF file, messed around yet again digitally inserting the required ‘hand written’ signature, re-imported the other required supporting documents, set up council’s required PDF bookmarks, logged on to the council portal and uploaded the replacement.

To tell them what they already knew.

Not only was a chunk of (un-billable) time & effort involved for my part, cost was added to the client’s processing fee at Council’s own breath-taking hourly rate.

Yes, rather a trivial example,  probably petty of me to mention it … but with a city in ruins to deal with, does it not beggar belief that this sort of approach is still flourishing in council?

How is it that council employees could still feel, in the midst of a crisis that threatens the very viability of Christchurch as a city, that their own internal policies and systems somehow come before the objectives of the population they are hired to serve?  Should they not be falling all over themselves to stay out of the way of the fragile beginnings of recovery?

No matter how kind a face you put on it, Council apparently remain blithely internal in their focus,  comfortable in imposing compulsory delays and costs on the public, that benefit absolutely no one but the writers of arbitrary policy directives.

Because they can.

My recent Christchurch experience of course is only one small example of the mindless obstruction generated by Council employees across the country – who are all no doubt ‘just following orders’ as they zealously implement their various tick-box systems. Every Architect has their share of war stories – cases for example where months of drawing work have been rejected for using the ‘wrong’ font or page size …  One case I heard recently was where the poor client was hit with a $120,000 bill for processing a Resource Consent application on a completely innocuous $20,000 alteration.

Sooner or later, shouldn’t the performance of our officials and systems be evaluated? Not against internally devised boxes ticked, procedures followed, and policies adhered to, but against the objective value they add for the property owners who pay their wages?

 

Paul King Architect | Christchurch | New Zealand | (03) 383 4592 | www.prime.net.nz

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