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Pop-up Christchurch

1 June 2014

The residents of Christchurch, imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit, have responded to earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 quickly, finding ways to rebuild

On Tuesday, February 22, 2011, at 12.51pm, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Canterbury region of New Zealand. The earthquake was centred 10km southeast of Christchurch, New Zealand’s second most populous city, causing widespread damage. It remains New Zealand’s second worst recorded natural disaster. The 2011 earthquake magnified the damage caused during the September 2010 earthquake. Indeed, it was the unfortunate impact needed to ruin many major and historic Christchurch buildings.

A Central City Red Zone (later renamed the CBD Rebuild Zone) was immediately established as a public safety exclusion zone. While the restricted city area gradually diminished as the rebuild took shape, the last of the cordons was not removed until June 30, 2013. Even today, work continues unabated to ensure that all buildings, roads and bridges are structurally safe, especially in terms of being earthquake resistant. This makes driving within the CBD necessarily restrictive – although this, too, is gradually improving. 

It would be impossible to overstate the transformative impact of the 2011 earthquake upon the city and inhabitants of Christchurch. Life as it had been no longer existed. People lost their homes, their businesses, their sporting, cultural and religious buildings. A new world dawned, yet much of what was lost could never truly be regained. Yes, the city could, and would, rebuild, but things would be very different.

Winston Churchill once remarked that “We shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us.” It’s a concept thought up by the Greeks and one that has occupied the minds of many architects and philosophers since. When we think of Paris, London, New York, Dubai or Sydney, particular structural landscapes come to mind – images significant for both inhabitant and visitor. 

So what happens when that landscape is essentially destroyed? How does a city recreate itself without constantly lamenting all that has been lost? It would perhaps be easy to give up, to lose hope. Yet, Christchurch, wounded and scarred, is a bright, innovative and energetic city that is breaking new and exciting ground. 

No one could pretend that things have been easy. Yet the ability of Christchurch to respond to the enormity of the challenge before it has been extraordinary. Christchurch is proof that adversity can, indeed, generate opportunity. 

As Cantabrians continue to fight for a positive and productive future, an enterprising new ‘pop-up’ culture has emerged. Many of these temporary businesses have been borne from frustration and determination at the all too often agonising wheels of bureaucracy, or in response to desperate public demand for replacement facilities. The pop-up movement in Christchurch is an important element of restoring a sense of normalcy, and of laying the foundations for permanent solutions. The following six remarkable pop-ups – ranging from sports and religious facilities to shopping, social and food enterprises – provide insight into this exciting movement flourishing in Christchurch.


SMASH PALACE

Smash Palace is a family-owned and operated bar on the corner of Victoria Street and Bealey Avenue. It’s not your usual set-up though. In fact, it’s a novel, popular and temporary bar built around two buses with a chilled out, colourful and flexible atmosphere. If “necessity is the mother of invention”, then much of what has developed since the Christchurch earthquakes is demonstrative of this. 

Johnny Moore set up Smash Palace after his former bar, Goodbye Blue Monday, was destroyed during the 2011 earthquake. With no buildings available to lease, Johnny fought hard for authorisation, then seized the opportunity to temporarily occupy a vacant site, upon the understanding it be vacated when the landowner is ready to rebuild. Given its practical set-up, Smash Palace can be packed up and moved in just a couple of weeks. 

Smash Palace has been a rewarding exercise for its owners. It has provided a successful business enterprise as well as a sense of a greater social purpose. Johnny says he is grateful to have experienced the earthquakes and to have been able to give something back. 

Like many Cantabrians, he feels a genuine desire to help rebuild a city he loves. “The bar is a response to the earthquakes – an example of how we pulled up our socks and got on with it,” he says. “It’s a nice snapshot of a place in time.” 

Smash Palace has a surprisingly broad clientele. Johnny describes it as a “democratic” bar where you’re as likely to encounter “the bloke digging the roads” as the “bloke who has designed the road network”. The bar makes a signature burger with bread baked on site, and Smash Palace hosts events such as Bike Night, offering visitors a chance to experience a late-night taste of pop-up Christchurch. 

thesmashpalace.co.nz

THE THAI CONTAINER

When the February 2011 earthquake struck, Sokunpavy Seng (Pavy for short) was working at her popular restaurant, Isarn Tha, in the heart of Christchurch. She became trapped behind a refrigerator, unhurt but unable to escape. Fortunately, she was rescued by a patron. To this day, she does not know the name of this heroic gentleman. 

Pavy’s partner, Rene Bell, also worked in the city. He, too, was amongst the immediate carnage. Pavy and her husband were grateful that they and their three children remained safe. They lost their home and their business, but they were still a family. Whilst their home was insured, the new insurance policy for the restaurant had yet to be signed. Thus, the couple were left out-of-pocket and exhausted. Yet, like so many Cantabrians, Pavy and Rene were determined to rebuild. 

Through sheer hard work, initiative and a positive attitude, Rene and Pavy built a caravan with a commercial kitchen inside. They began serving their high-quality, affordable cuisine from this humble abode on a vacant site at 151 Bealey Avenue. 

In order to meet increasing demand, a bigger kitchen was soon required. Having endured the earthquake, they were keen for something safe and practical. Hence, the clever use of a 40ft shipping container for their new kitchen. Rene wisely painted a decorative mural over the caravan (now ‘front of restaurant’) and shipping container. The result is a fun and comfortable place to eat superb Thai food. Pavy continues to employ many of her former staff and has earned a reputation for her award-winning fresh spring rolls. 

Rene says that, “like anything, we learn to adapt the best we can”. The Thai Container is certainly testament to its earnest owner, Pavy, and reflects the genuine sense of community the earthquake prompted. 

thaicontainer.co.nz

THE TRANSITIONAL CATHEDRAL

The Christchurch Cathedral was arguably the most significant architectural loss to result from the 2011 earthquake. Indeed, it had graced Cathedral Square since 1864, serving the community as both a place of worship and a venue for cultural events. So how does a city replace something so iconic? 

The answer came fortuitously, when Christchurch Cathedral marketing and development manager Craig Dixon happened, by chance, upon an article detailing the work of Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Shigeru Ban. Ban has established something of a reputation as a disaster and environmental architect. Dixon identified with Ban’s Paper Dome church in Kobe. He approached Ban, who subsequently designed the groundbreaking Transitional Cathedral, the world’s only cathedral made largely of cardboard. 

It contains 600mm diameter cardboard tubes coated with waterproof polyurethane and flame-retardants, can hold up to 700 people and has a design life of 50 years. Cardboard is considered an ideal building material since it is readily available, recyclable and surprisingly strong. 

The Transitional Cathedral, a short walk from the original, sits on the former site of the Church of St John, the latter having been destroyed in the September 2010 earthquake. 

Unique, bold and innovative, there is an appropriate sense of awe created by what Lynda Patterson, dean of Christchurch, describes as “waves of tubes sweeping in towards the altar”. The original Cathedral – its fate still unknown – was a monument of such scale and grandness to have surely been impossible to replace. Yet Christchurch has created a visionary new structure, a source of fascination, of wonder. It successfully fills the void left by the loss of the original. The design beckons light into its sanctum, proliferating colour from the stunning stained glass front window. The cathedral is symbolic of the city’s continued regeneration. 

cardboardcathedral.org.nz

RE:START

It is widely acknowledged that following a natural disaster there is a critical time frame of six to nine months within which life and activity must be restored to an area of devastation. That is, if recovery is to be successful. The longer recovery action takes, the less likely a positive outcome becomes. 

The Re:START Project might be viewed as an almost textbook case study. The project was carefully planned and implemented, overseen by a diverse team driven by a common purpose and emotional energy. Furthermore, the project was aided by a much broader community network of good will and initiative that enabled a number of logistical challenges to be tackled. 

The construction took place in a live disaster zone under the jurisdiction of the New Zealand Army. The construction took 61 days, was on time and within budget. Since its celebrated opening on November 29, 2011, the project has grown from an initial 27 shops to more than 50 successful businesses. Additionally, it has enabled many market stalls, street performers and buskers to earn their living. 

This is a unique shopping mall. It has a curious, inviting atmosphere. The shipping containers seemingly suggest the smell of salty air, as if one is elsewhere. They provide highly functional shopping space and the mostly glass walls provide perfect window shopping. Within this microcosm, there is, too, an overwhelming sense of a safe haven, an inner sanctuary, an area of refuge and regeneration within a damaged city. 

The Re:START Mall is the perfect place to buy gifts, fashion, footwear, sweets and books, and to enjoy lunch. Visitors should experience the intriguing novelty of a clever project that will only exist for a limited time. Large hand-painted eggs, topiary birds and hanging flower baskets decorate this centrepoint of a CBD reborn. 

restart.org.nz

GAP GOLF

Following the Christchurch earthquakes, many Cantabrians were naturally hesitant to return to their city centre. It was impractical, traumatic and in some cases, both. But a city cannot exist without the healthy transit of people. With this in mind, an inspired pop-up initiative known as Gap Filler took a pro-active approach to breathing new life into its shaken city. Gap Golf operates within its framework. 

The enterprise is a shining example of how creative pragmatism can provide temporary solutions directed towards permanent growth. Playful, fun and mostly free, Gap Golf encourages families, particularly young people, to explore and experience their city as it rebuilds. Equally, it offers tourists an ideal and enjoyable way to discover Christchurch. This is especially true since the CBD remains, to a degree, difficult to navigate by car. 

There are currently seven holes, with each hole occupying a vacant site and thus explaining the background to the hitherto, pre-earthquake building. Importantly, as the city itself changes and evolves, so too does each hole. That is, as landowners reclaim their land to rebuild, the holes are removed and recreated on similarly deserted sites. 

Fairway to Heaven, 70 Kilmore Street, is perhaps the most popular hole, largely on account of its proximity to the Pallet Pavillion. Pallet Mini Golf, 100 Peterborough Street, is another popular hole. It was devised by the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) and aptly reflects the infrastructure nature of its business designer. Road cones, piping and water features help create a light-hearted and quirky hole. 

Gap Golf succeeds on multiple levels. Coralie Winn, Gap Filler co-founder and creative director, says the project is about “leading by example and testing new ideas about what people want in their city”. Putt your way around Christchurch and experience the ingenuity and transformation first-hand. 

gapfiller.org.nz/gap-golf

AMI TEMPORARY STADIUM

Since the 8th Century BC, stadiums have occupied a centrifugal social force within cities. Thus, the loss of Christchurch’s original, historic stadium deprived the community of anywhere to celebrate major sporting or cultural events. It also meant the Crusaders – the most successful team in Super Rugby history – played their entire 2011 season away from home. 

It wasn’t just a logistical nightmare for the unstoppable Crusaders. It struck at the very heart of Christchurch, since the Crusaders form part of the physical, psychological and emotional fabric of Cantabrians. Recognising this Crusaders CEO Hamish Riach was instrumental in the challenging, though successful, battle to erect a new stadium. 

Under extraordinary circumstances, with undeterred energy and determination, AMI Temporary Stadium was erected through a collaborative effort, in a staggering 100 days. Expertly designed, it has earned international distinction, and was awarded the Project Of The Year Award at the International 2013 Stadium Business Awards. 

A symbol of strength, hope and pride, it returned what Christchurch Stadium Trust CEO Tim Shannahan describes as a “sense of normality during difficult times”. Additionally, school and local communities can utilise its facilities.

Stadiums at their best provide unique, unrepeatable experiences. Atmosphere is everything. The first Crusaders game at AMI Temporary Stadium was, Riach recalls, “intensely emotional”. He describes the “wonderful weather” as a timely notice that the storm had finally calmed. 

Today, the incredible ambience remains ever potent. Each home game is a spectacular event not to be missed, an opportunity to be as close as it gets to world-class rugby and its finest players – think Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Kieran Read. Here you’ll think you’ve entered a medieval tournament, as the Crusaders horses perform their trademark show to the goosebump magic of Vangelis’s Conquest of Paradise. Seize the opportunity to touch the pulse of Christchurch. 

vbase.co.nz/venues/ami-stadium

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