Architects agree on the way forward for Christchurch Rebuild

As an urgent public service response to Christchurch’s recent devastating earthquakes, a good number of Christchurch’s Architects who feel passionately about the city, including some of its most respected and experienced practitioners, have for some months been volunteering their time to consider and work on strategies and ideas for the reconstruction of the central city.

With the input of other invited professionals and stakeholders of high standing, the working group identified that the future viability of Christchurch as a major cultural and economic hub is genuinely at risk and that new and bold planning initiatives are required to address this crisis.

As a first response, we undertook a number of design case studies using some key under performing sites across the city to generate ideas addressing the character and planning of the precincts they occupy. A computer model of the entire CBD incorporating these was generated.

Our intention is to share these preliminary outcomes with the public as well as with Council, but we acknowledge that much more remains to be done and considered before we can reach anything like a complete or coherent design solution for the rebuilding of Christchurch.

Even so, strong consensus as to the way forward was evident amongst all participants in the group, and from a very early stage. Twelve key strategic recommendations have emerged (see NZIA submission for details).

As Architects, we hope that Council will come to recognize that the profession does indeed have the expertise to share this urgent task of re-planning the city, and that it will engage directly with us, acknowledging a substantial on-going role for Christchurch’s Architects in all strategic planning processes and decision making, before it is too late to matter.

With the willingness of Council and other stakeholders to act boldly and to collaborate deeply on a design led process with the very profession that built the city and understands it so well, we conclude that Christchurch can transcend this crisis, and that we can all look forward to a very exciting future indeed.

The full submission is available here: NZIA-CANTERBURY-Recommendations-for-a-Design-Led-Reconstruction-of-the-Christchurch-City-Centre

Below are some of the images that emerged from this preliminary design exploration process

Your comments welcome!

Paul King Architect | Christchurch | New Zealand | (03) 383 4592 |

Lab results: Designing Stimulating Environments May Save Lives

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Published on: March 29, 2011

Alla Katsnelson

Sarah Salmela / iStockphoto

Stress has acquired a bad image as a contributor to disease, but a little stress may be no bad thing.

Mice raised in a complex environment providing social interactions, opportunities to learn and increased physical activity are less likely to get cancer, and better at fighting it when they do, a new study suggests. A mild boost in stress hormones seems to be what keeps the cancer at bay by switching on a molecular pathway that restrains tumour growth.

Researchers from the United States and New Zealand injected mice with melanoma cells — the deadliest form of skin cancer. After six weeks, mice raised in an enriched environment — extra-large cages housing 20 individuals with running wheels and other toys — had tumours that were almost 80% smaller than those in mice raised in standard housing — five animals to a cage with no additional stimulation. Whereas all the normally housed mice developed tumours, 17% of the mice from the enriched environment developed no tumours at all. Tests in mice with colon cancer showed the same effect.

“We were very surprised by the degree of the reduction in cancer” in the mice raised under enriched housing conditions, says Matthew During, a neuroscientist at Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus and a lead author on the study, to be published in Cell tomorrow1.

Unexpected effects

Researchers studying environmental enrichment have mostly focused on its positive effects on the brain, explains behavioural neuroscientist Abdul Mohammed at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, who was not involved in the work. “This study is pushing the field to show its effects on tumour growth.”

When During and his colleagues began the work in 2005, he himself had skin cancer, his mother was suffering from ovarian cancer, and a close friend had died of melanoma. “I was interested in the whole question of why the natural history of cancer differed so dramatically from one individual to the next,” he recalls.

The ‘enriched’ mice, the researchers found, had slightly raised levels of stress hormones, but the most striking physiological change was markedly reduced levels of the hormone leptin, known to regulate appetite. Blocking leptin abolished the effects of enrichment, suggesting that the hormone was key to the pathway that led to the anti-cancer effects.

Next, the team looked for changes in the hypothalamus, a brain region that regulates the body’s energy balance and links the nervous system with the endocrine system. They found that expression of a gene encoding the signaling protein BDNF increased dramatically after two weeks in mice living in enriched conditions. And simply overexpressing BDNF in the hypothalamus, the researchers found, mimicked the protective effects of enrichment, suggesting BDNF, too, was a critical regulator of the protective pathway.

Finally, the group found that the increase in BDNF was linked to the decrease in leptin levels in fat cells through the action of stress hormones. “What we’ve really shown here is that the brain, by switching off this pathway, is actually preventing a proliferative environment,” says During.

The health challenge

To make sure that the cancer protection was not simply due to the rodents’ increase in physical activity, the researchers looked for a reduction in cancer among mice housed with the addition of only a running wheel. Running on its own had no effect on tumour growth, and these mice experienced no gain in stress hormone or BDNF expression, nor a dip in leptin levels.

“This is a novel finding,” says John Hall, a physiologist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson who studies obesity. “And I think it’s going to stimulate a lot of people to learn more about how enrichment can reduce tumour growth.”

Work by Hall’s group2 and others has begun to hint at leptin’s role in tumour growth. Hall notes, though, that his group’s study suggested that leptin had a relatively weak effect on tumour growth.During stresses that by enriching the rodents’ cage environment “it’s not that you’re just creating a happy place, you’re challenging them”. The protective effects of the stimulation that the test mice received could easily translate into human benefits, he says, and points to possible benefits of a more active lifestyle — not just physically, but also socially and cognitively.

The team is now working to determine which particular elements of the enriched environment are producing its positive effects, During says. They are also developing gene-therapy vectors for delivering BDNF to treat disease, and studying leptin more closely to determine how accurate a marker it is for cancer protection. “Could you then devise interventions, either physiologically or behaviourally,” says During, “and use leptin as a readout?”

  • References

    1. Cao, L. et al. Cell 142, 52-64 (2010). | ArticlePubMed
    2. Brandon, E.L. et al. Cancer Biol. Ther. 8, 1871-1879 (2009). | ArticlePubMedChemPort |

Paul King Architect | Christchurch | New Zealand | (03) 383 4592 |

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