Christchurch

Mothers: A Gaby Montejo performance

First Thursdays are like late night shopping, but good. Community-focussed arts events, they bring people to a neighbourhood or precinct to wander, absorb, participate, witness and feast until bedtime. First Thursdays have become calendar fixtures in many cities around the world.

On October Second, the first golden evening of spring 2014, hundreds of people came to Sydenham to take part in Christchurch’s first First Thursday. At 6:30, Gaby Montejo took the stage at the Honey Pot cafe ahead of the Lady Poets. The photograph beside his item in the First Thursdays publicity flyer had shown him re-imagined as Conchita Wurst. No one knew what he was going to do, but those present who knew Montejo and his art knew that it could be anything.

What he did was sit down and introduce himself.

‘But this is not about me,’ he said. ‘It’s about you. Especially you, Audrey Baldwin.’

A stunned Baldwin made her way to the stage and took her place beside Montejo. He shared his perceptions of her with the crowd – non-judgemental, gutsy and willing, collaborative, positive, a machine of excitement – and then bestowed upon her a magnificent, garish, one-metre-tall trophy. Baldwin looked delighted. The audience applauded, cheered and laughed.

Photo of Audrey Baldwin accepting her trophy.

‘I was no good at sports,’ Baldwin said. ‘I never thought I’d get a trophy like this.’ She spoke with eloquence and brevity, thanking those who have supported her, always and recently. She stroked her trophy. ‘I’ll find a space for this.’

What was Montejo up to here? He explained that his eight years in Christchurch had been a time of great change, and he meant the obvious, yes, the earthquakes and all that, but what he wanted us to notice that evening was the energy happening in the creative arts, and who had come forward to spearhead creative actions and events in post-quake Christchurch.

‘People like Audrey Baldwin,’ he said, ‘and also people like Jessica Halliday.’

Jessica Halliday – responsible, energetic, respectful, thoughtful, a gastronomist – claimed her trophy and said, Academy-Awards style, that she just wanted to thank God. And Gaby, for giving her not just a trophy but this platform to say she’s got one of the best jobs in Christchurch.

Montejo’s next trophy went to Melanie Oliver – playful, fair to diversity, honest, optimistic, participant and driver – who was not present to accept it. Hopefully, she has it by now.

Chloe Geoghegan – enthusiastic, caring, hardworking, tenacious, her humour enlightens – was down in Dunedin ‘busy mothering another city,’ Her trophy was accepted with feeling and just a touch of mystifying snark by a man who identified himself only as Ted.

Coralie Winn – energetic, professional, adventurous, empathetic, motherly – was also not present, but her partner Ryan shot a video of Montejo’s admiration and acknowledgement for her to watch later. Ryan accepted Winn’s trophy on her behalf, saying. ‘You have no idea how much she loves trophies.’ He declined to speak further because, ‘I speak for her way too often as it is.’

Towards the end of his performance, Montejo acknowledged these trophies were a bit cheesy and generic. ‘They were all I could afford,’ he said. ‘I swear if I could get you what you deserve it would be spectacular.’ He explained that he had grown tired of waiting for someone of higher authority than Gaby Montejo to honour these people and their accomplishments.

‘And so, by the power invested in me as an art consumer and art participant, I deem these excellent, high achieving people (who just happen to be women) The Founding Art Mothers of New Christchurch.’

Montejo’s piece was part ode to the exceptional strengths, talents and efforts of these five women, part plea that they be recognised, part challenge to the old boys to think what it means to be a mother and maybe decide that it’s time to move over and make way for the new girls. It was one citizen giving back some of the love five people had poured into his city.

‘All who live here should know these art drivers,’ he said, and no one who witnessed this performance that evening could disagree with him. If you don’t know the five Founding Art Mothers of New Christchurch, change that. Seek them out. Look them up. Each one has some kind of web presence. (Gaby Montejo does, too. But this is not about him.)

 

Coralie Winn
http://www.gapfiller.org.nz/about/

Melanie Oliver
http://physicsroom.org.nz/about/

Jessica Halliday
http://festa.org.nz/about/#the-people

Chloe Geoghegan
http://www.blueoyster.org.nz/about/

Audrey Baldwin
http://audreybaldwin.wix.com/audrey-baldwin#!about

 

First Thursdays

http://www.firstthursdayschch.co.nz/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Politicisation of CERA and the planning of new Christchurch

This, strangely, is a crossback-cross-post originally published at Rebuilding Christchurch by Barnaby Bennett, chief egg of the Freerange Press and editor of the magnificent book “Christchurch: The Transitional City Part IV“. This is the first of an epic four-and-a-half-part analysis of the political machinations in Christchurch, and how they are influencing the rebuild. -Byron, Ed.

 

No government was ever going to be able to seamlessly respond to a crazy series of events like the earthquakes that hit Christchurch between September 2010 and the end of 2011.  It was an insanely complex and difficult event and the tangled nature of all the little parts mean the development of new ideas and plans and the construction of these is no easy task. Yet, this shouldn’t mean a pass card for our representatives. In this article I’ll argue, and explain, why I think the removal of the public from most of the rebuild process is a critical mistake both politically for the government and for the citizens of Christchurch.Read more

What’s going on with the Arts Precinct: Incompetence or Deceit?

In the last week there has been a long overdue rush of public announcements about the Performing Arts Precinct in Christchurch. These can be tidily split into categories of ‘why didn’t they announce this 6 months ago’, and the more bewildering ‘are you trying to make yourself look stupid?’.  I’ll explain this below, and by doing so try to work out a question that could easily apply to a number of projects in the city at the moment: is the current sad state of this project a result of incompetence or deceit? (It’s a long article, but there are specific recommendations at the end!)

I’ll start with the obvious announcement. The government has decided that a significant part of the area designated for the Arts Precinct is now no longer needed so they have wisely decided to remove the designation. This allows the owners of the land to avoid compulsory purchase of the land and to either sell the land or to develop what they want.  It has been obvious to everyone involved that this land was not needed for the arts precinct project with the Council’s repeated and consistent position to retain and repair the Town hall. For a department that has been given the mandate to improve the quality and speed of the rebuild it seems strange to tie up this bit of land for so long given that it has been known since late August last year when the Council voted unanimously (for the 2nd time) to retain the Townhall.  It was signaled long before this with the Council vote the previous year and the acknowledgment in the Cost Sharing Agreement between the CCC and CERA that the Town hall was likely to stay. This is from a famously fractured council, and not a single member voted against retention on two separate occasions.Read more

FESTA Free Rangers

Remarkable things will happen during Labour weekend at FESTA whether you’re a solo festival butterfly or more of a pack animal. There’s bound to be something to get your juices flowing (literally, don’t miss getting your sweat on in the Nomadic Sauna).

The annual Festival of Transitional Architecture is a free, public event that engages with the city of Christchurch (New Zealand) by exploring urban regeneration through large scale collaborative projects and urban interventions. It is the first and only festival of its kind in the world.

Over the course of Labour Weekend events, performances and projects happen across empty sites and in vacant buildings within the city’s four avenues, reintroducing life and urban activity to the centre. This rediscovery of the inner city invites a variety of collective investigations into the nature of civic life and opens it up to the community’s desire to participate in the remaking of their city.  www.festa.org.nz

After the huge success of the inaugural FESTA last year, when 30,000 people swarmed to Luxcity, it’s great to know that Jessica Halliday returns as Director Extraordinaire, and with their stellar crew, FESTA is looking conspicuously like THE Festival to be at this year.

Chief Egg of the Freerange Pirate ship, Barnaby Bennett, is currently the Chair of the FESTA Board, and he’s been a relentless captain of advocacy and awesomeness for Christchurch. It’s not surprising then, that a fair few Freerange Captains couldn’t resist charting a course for the City Within A City.

 

Here’s a quick rundown of a few places to catch up with a Free Ranger at FESTA.

On Friday I’ll be hanging out in the Pallet Pavilion at Anissa Victoria’s Twilight Vintage Market from 4pm, from there you can pick up some of my new drawings if that kind of thing tickles your fancy. The Twilight Market will be stocked with interesting finds, good food, a bar, and live music, the perfect reason to wander through the blue fortress at dusk before things go crazy on Saturday.

 

Dusting off after Casual Friday, Barnaby Bennett will be hosting Urban T(act)ics, an open discussion with Chris Morley-Hall (founder of the Cuba Street Carnival), Federico Monsalve (Freerange director and design writer), James Coyle (architect/musician, Newtown Festival, Wellington),  Lucinda Hartley (director and co-founder of Co-design, Melbourne), and myself. Urban T(act)ics will be a chance for “groups and individuals doing similar work in Christchurch to learn lessons from other cities and to meet people curious about what is happening here. All presenters work in organisations that have influence in their city but not as part of government, and will reflect on how their work can be considered an action, activity or tactic within the city.

From there, Big Saturday gets huge, with the itchy anticipation of the main event, Canterbury Tales, building to a crescendo of surreal satisfaction.  Clink your glasses, see you in the morning!

 

The Sunday Sesh warms up with an all ages drawing workshop I’ll be running called Supernova City. Inspired by dream cartographers of the city, the workshop will work collectively to make drawings and traces of the city as we experience it, blurring past memories and future dreams on the same massive canvas. We’ll be at the Pallet Pavilion from 10-2pm, I’ll be posting our progress up on Facebook and Twitter (@byronkinnaird and @FreerangePress), hashtag drawing, hashtag cant wait!

The first ever gathering in the flesh of the Freerange Directors seems almost too good to be true (and it might not be true), but we’ll be getting together to launch Freerange Vol.7: The Commons at 6pm at 88 Worcester Street, one of the Canterbury Tales sites.  This issue is hugely relevant to Christchurch, so drop by to celebrate in Commons style with us.

 

There are seriously so many things to get involved in over the long weekend, check out the full programme, there’s bound to be something to do whether its learning about the Arches or the Pallet Pavillion, building a house, or meeting the puppets.

 

Full programme here.

www.festa.org.nz

Why a completely new Arts Precinct in Christchurch is a stupid idea.

The local newspaper the Press has recently published several articles (here, here, and here) arguing why it is in the best interests of the city to demolish the Town Hall and put the insurance money into a new arts precinct.  I think this is a very misinformed view that seems to be based almost entirely on information from press releases from the office of Gerry Brownlee.   I’d ask that if The Press is going to weigh in with a strong editorial position on the city, they should, at the least, do their homework.  This article argues the case against a new large arts precinct.

[I would like to compare the editorialising of the Press to a recent article in the NZ Herald  about the St. James building in Auckland. It consists of actual research, interviews, and factual information.]

In my view any decision to demolish the Christchurch Town Hall is more than likely to lead to a new development that will: A. take longer to build than it will to repair the current Town Hall, B. be more expensive, and C. be of a lower quality.

Before explaining these a little bit of background:

In the middle of 2012 the government launched its blueprint for the city, and one of the anchor projects in this blueprint was a new arts precinct.  This precinct was based on an assumption that the Town Hall was unrepairable, and that the $70 million dollars of insurance money from this should go to the new arts precinct.

In November last year the Christchurch City Council was asked to vote on whether they would pay for the full repair of the building which was estimated to be around $127 million dollars.   After some public discussion and lobbying by groups (including one I am part of) who argued for the unique heritage, arts, and civic values of the building, the council voted unanimously (!) to pay for the full repair.  The decision was based on overwhelming support for the retention of the building in the public submission for council city plan.

The Minister in charge of Earthquake Reconstruction, Gerry Brownlee, was obviously unhappy with the decision and said all sorts of half-truths to undermine the decision (which I have previously commented on here and here). In the large cost-sharing agreement between the council and CERA that was announced in July, the Town Hall and the Arts Precinct have been passed from CERA to the Council to develop (with ultimate approval from the Minister).

A short time after this cost sharing agreement the Council ran a full public meeting about the Town Hall and the Arts Precinct outlining the work they have been doing and their recommendations.   On Tuesday the 14th of August the plans and costings for the new recommendations were made public and presented to the elected councillors.  The recommendation is that the Christchurch Town Hall is fully repaired at a cost of around $127.5 million which includes large contingencies, and around $40 million to be spent on a new arts precinct to house space for the CSO, new Court Theatre, and the Christchurch Centre for Music.

Contrary to some commentary there has been very clear decision-making about this from the Councils position.  In November last year they voted, based on popular support and expert opinion, to keep the building. This year staff members and consultants have been working on: A. what needs repairing, B. what needs upgrading. C. how long it will take, and D. How much this will cost.

A ‘final’ vote will be made by council on the 29th of this August to pick which option to proceed with.

All this information can be downloaded here from the council. [full status of Christchurch Town Hall and Arts Precinct Projects]

I would like to make a note comparing the clarity and rigour of this process with the complete opacity of the other CERA led projects.  We don’t even know the brief for the other projects like the public river park, the convention centre, or the stadium.

To explain my claim that demolishing the Town Hall and replacing it with anew precinct will lead to a slower, more expensive, and lower quality outcome here is a better explanation:

Note: The following points are made on some assumption that if we are going to knock down a world-class building we need to replace it with something of equivalent quality.   I have based my comparison on recent world-class concert halls.  We currently have an internationally recognized venue (with full repair plan and money set aside to pay for it) so it’s fair to compare to the equivalent contemporary projects.  (I’d be interested to see any examples that provide counter arguments.)

A. The executive director of the CSO Richard Ballantyne was in the paper this week stating that the 4-year repair is too long and will affect the running of the CSO.   Does he really think a new arts precinct, for which the land is not even purchased and the brief isn’t even written yet will be ready in less than four years?   History doesn’t support him.

  • The Christchurch Town Hall itself was built on time and under budget and took 6 years from Warren and Mahoney winning the competition till opening.  It opened in 1972.
  • The Copenhagen Concert Hall is smaller than the Town Hall and took 6 years to construct.  (From start of construction, so doesn’t include the long design and pre-construction processes).  This building opened in 2009.
  • The Disney Concert Hall in L.A took 15 years to construct.   (The car-park alone cost $110 million and took 9 years!) The building was constructed between 1999 and 2003.
  • The Casa Da Musica in Lisbon by OMA took 6 years from the announcement of the winner of the design competition, and was opened in 2005.

These examples illustrate that it is naïve to think we can have a new world-class facility within four years. Especially when this is going to be happening in the middle the biggest building boom in NZ history.

B. $160 million dollars sounds like a lot of money.  It is a lot of money.  It really is a lot of money. $127.5 million to fix a building is a lot of money.  But the critical point that needs to be stressed here is that $160 million isn’t much for a world-class facility to be constructed (esp. in the middle of a construction boom). The costs for the buildings mentioned above are: Copenhagen Concert Hall (which is smaller than the Town Hall) was US$300 million dollars, the Disney Concert Hall was US$274 million, and the Casa Da Mucisa cost 500 milllion euros (the amount it went over budget was the total amount we would have to build a new building).   The idea that we can get a facility anywhere near the class of what we have already for this money is deeply questionable.  Demolishing a great building and then trying to quickly and cheaply get a new facility up and running is recipe for cultural ruin.

The CERA led campaign to demolish the Town Hall frequently states that the ground quality below the Town Hall is ‘the worst in the city’.  It did suffer from lateral spread and this has damaged the building.  However the proposed site of the new arts precinct is in worse condition and will be an expensive exercise to build there.  The engineers have come up with an injection method which will stabilise the ground and bring the building up to 100% of contemporary code.

C.   There is a commonly used project management rule of thumb that a project can be delivered quickly, cheaply, and to a high quality, but that you can only get one or two of these aspects, not all three.  The task of managing a project is to pick the most appropriate factors (after the quakes, speed was obviously the most important factor). Given the obvious need to get good quality venues into the city, speed is important, and given that we have only $160 million to spend on a building, budget is a problem.  This leaves the obvious conclusion that quality will be the first victim of this process.  Given that we have a quality building already in the city it seems obvious that demolishing an existing project is not wise.  (And that’s not even accounting for the important heritage and civic value of the building).

The Town Hall was innovative when it was built in 1972.  It is an exemplary building of a global architectural movement. The acoustics were the first of its kind and have been copied around the world.  It is an award winning, internationally recognized, and important building.  You might think it is ugly. That’s fine.  It has more international status than any other building in the country.   The new plans developed by the firm Warren and Mahoney, in conjunction with the original architects, upgrades the building to all new fire, services, and earthquake codes.  Problems such as the back stage entry and accessibility will be fixed with new extensions and interventions.  This is not just a repair but a major upgrade of the building. Buildings age and the demands on them change with time, so the opportunity to spend substantial sums adapting this building for another 50 or 100 years of use is a great one.  In my mind the question should not be whether we demolish and start again, but how to best adapt the Town Hall for future use.

It is easy to put up a nice argument and say we can have our old tired Town Hall or a new shiny arts precinct.   But its more accurate to say we can have a repaired, refurbished, modernized Town Hall that we know is a world class facility, or we can take a huge risk of hoping for some design and construction miracle to deliver something quickly with little money of the same quality.

The whole mantra of this reconstruction is that we are building for future generations, and this means we have to be prudent and wise with our decisions and not make big risky gambles.

Note: My last comment would be that we should now turn our attention to making sure the smaller $40 million dollar arts precinct fulfills its potential.   We need to make sure that it is a public facility that supports the arts across the whole city. I worry that it is becoming home to a few large organisations and won’t support a wider accessibility to arts. The brief for this new centre is based off an audit done by CCDU in secret that is not publically available.  So we are making $40 million dollar decisions on information citizens can’t access. It’s crazy.

The CCDU have actually done a bit of a dirty job with the arts precinct, and given them a bit of land south of the river between Gloucester and Armagh to use for this project.  The land north of Armagh would have been much better in my opinion. It would have had north facing river frontage, be next to Victoria Square, which will be something of a cultural centre, and would be next to the Town Hall.  Again, this is the type of strange decision-making happening in this city. Major urban planning decisions being made by an organisation with no public accountability.

Perhaps the Press should be concentrating on the radical lack of public input into urban planning in this city rather than lobbying for the demolition of our cultural heritage?

Recommendations:

  1. We need a proper audit of the arts needs of the city to see what the city needs and how the council can best assist that with facilities.
  2. The function of James Hay theatre should be reviewed and perhaps requires a radically different design that offers more variety and easy reconfiguration.
  3. The CCC should be lobbying CERA to get the piece of land next to the river so the arts precinct can be close to the Town Hall and designed around the river.

This isn’t about the Christchurch Town Hall.

Well, obviously it is. But I suggest that the recent reemergence of the future of the Christchurch Town Hall in public conversation isn’t about the Town Hall.   There is a short and a long explanation to this:

Short Explanation.

There is no real doubt about the future of the Town Hall. The Christchurch City Council owns it.  They know pretty much it is going to cost to:

A. Repair the damage,

B. Mitigate against future quakes by fixing the land, and

C. Bring it up to current building codes.

It is not especially cheap to do this. But it is costed, and budgeted, and the council is diligently working toward this after the Councilors voted unanimously for this last November.   It’ll open sometime in 2017.  It is a crucial building in the life of the city, it is one of the nations most significant pieces of architecture, and internationally it is widely recognized as one of the great acoustic spaces. If you don’t believe this read some of the testimonials here from architects, musicians and acousticians:

‘The interior of the main hall is an acoustic wonder.’

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, Professor of Fine Arts

‘It might not be too far-fetched to assert that, assuming the conductor knows his business, the hall acoustic afforded by the Lilburn Auditorium is little short of miraculous.’

Sir William Southgate

‘If demolished, it is unlikely to be replaced with a new building which possess the same qualities: architects of Miles Warren’s calibre are few and far between.’

Letter signed by Tony Van Raat signed on behalf of 20 architecture staff and 127 students at Unitec in Auckland.

 ‘Buildings are at one level physical artefacts, at another they are the repositories of our memories, places of celebration and commiseration, and the stage for life. The Town hall is exemplary in every respect and an inspiration to the whole of New Zealand and beyond. It is perhaps though as a symbol of renewal that it could be even more important now than it ever has been before. The opportunity to for it to be that awaits your decision. The like of it will not be seen again.’

Patrick Clifford, Past Pesident New Zealand Institute of Architects

 ‘I firmly believe that Christchurch Town Hall is of such architectural and cultural significance that every effort should be made to ensure its survival. It is perhaps one of only a few works of architecture in New Zealand that have had an influence on other buildings around the world, its acoustics much appreciated by famous international musicians.’

Barry Bergdoll, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design.

This is the short answer.  In principle that should be the end of the story.

Long Explanation.

But as we are living in a post-earthquake city with extraordinary complex planning and rebuild decisions to be made, of course it is not this simple.  If only. With the short explanation in mind you may well be asking yourself: If the decision to keep the Town Hall has been made, why is the minister in charge of rebuild, Gerry Brownlee writing in the media that it should be demolished?  It is a good question!

To answer this we need to step back a few steps and look at the broader context of the government city plan and the current negotiations about who is going to pay for which bit of it.

As you all know in the months after the February 2011 quake the Christchurch City Council was asked to develop a draft city plan. To do this they did some very broad (over 100,000 people were involved) and not very deep citizen engagement. Which is exactly what they should have done at that point. Exemplary and award winning.  A plan was developed, which was to some extent based on the work done before the quake with Danish firm Jan Gehl Architects. (an extremely highly regarded firm internationally who have worked in New York, Melbourne, London, Copenhagen and many others). This plan was put out for public feedback, revised and submitted to minister Brownlee for consideration.  For around 5 months over the summer of 2011/2012 there was silence about this plan as the Minister considered it. Around March 2012 the Minister largely rejected the plan and to set up his own group of design experts, we have no knowledge what led to the decision (but plenty of rumour). These experts included lots of local and some international figures. They were are professional and well regarded bunch who were given 100 days to work together with other government agencies and some members of the Christchurch City Council to come up with a new revised plan.  So far, so good. A bit strange rejecting the first plan, but we all know here that we are all making this up as we go along, so change is ok.

100 days later our prime minister comes to town, launches the new city plan, expensive videos for international investors are shown, the bubbly flows, everyone looks smug and all the property owners and business leaders smile.

The new city plan has a lot of lovely things in it.  A new big stadium, a convention centre four times the size of the old one, a new city library, a justice precinct, a new hospital, a sports centre, a new river park, a performing arts precinct, (remember this one) and lots lots more. Seventeen Anchor projects in total. There are a couple of things to note here:

Firstly, all these projects were put in the plan because the government had decided they should be in there, not because the 100-day plan came up with them. The 100 days was basically an exercise in placing these projects in the best place possible, not an exercise in working out what the city needs.  While saying that some new projects were introduced in the process such as the important east and south frames.

Secondly, the Minister may claim that the Share an Idea campaign and the previous council plan informed the new design, and he may claim that this constitutes public consultation.  In some respects he might be right, but we have to take his word for it as the entire process has been secret.  I don’t like taking ministers’ words on things.  Perhaps he could answer: What methodology did you use to sift through 100,000 ideas and turn it into a workable framework?  Did you check to see if the resulting framework was true to the ideas of the community?

As this process was happening there was, as with many hundreds of other buildings in the city, some concern about the damage to the Town Hall, and a lack of good information about it.  The council had a due process to slowly go through its building stock and do proper engineering reports. Which in regards to the Town Hall are available here.

The damage assessment by Holmes Consulting Group in August 2011 says:

‘In general terms, the building has been relatively undamaged by the shaking’ and that ‘the Town Hall has not sustained damage that would be considered substantial,’ and,

‘In summary, we do not consider the damage resulting from the earthquake to pose a significant structural hazard in relation to the occupation of the building.’

http://resources.ccc.govt.nz/files/canterburyearthquake/Engineering-reports-amistadium-townhall-convcentre/106355.01DetailedStructuralAssessment-Qualitative110808.pdf

Ok, so the building is ok, but what about the land? The geotech report states:

‘Once excess pore water pressures from the 22 February 2011 and 13 June 2011 earthquakes and aftershocks have dissipated, it is likely that the strength of the soil underlying the buildings will return to the pre-earthquake levels.’

http://resources.ccc.govt.nz/files/canterburyearthquake/Engineering-reports-amistadium-townhall-convcentre/110808-TownHallGeotechPreliminaryreporCCCBriefing.pdf

Additionally the original acoustic firm Marshall Day have had a preliminary look at the auditorium and commented in a report that: there is no visible damage to the auditoriums acoustic fabric”.

If I can risk paraphrasing these two reports on the structure and the ground I’d say:

1. The building performed well in the quakes, it is sound and stable.

2. However it has settled unevenly, so the floor level is not even through the whole complex.

3. The building needs to be brought up to contemporary building codes.

4. The land is prone to liquefaction and lateral spread, so while the building is in good condition it may again become uneven in events in the future.

5. There are a number of ways to mitigate this which are been explored.

These reports were published in August 2011 and to the best of my knowledge there has been no major change.

So it was with some surprise when the new city plan was launched with a complete  absence of the Town Hall.  In the visual document a green lawn has replaced the Town Hall. The only mention of the Town Hall in the document is in the section about the Performing Arts Precinct which is:

 ‘proposed to offer facilities for music and the performing arts, and to act as a catalyst for recovery. The precinct will embrace different sites and will support co-location of organisations as far as is possible.’ Then there is a very important sentence that says:  ‘The precinct designation will be sufficient to provide for a range of facilities in the event that the Town Hall cannot be repaired.’ (All this can be found online here: http://ccdu.govt.nz/sites/ccdu.govt.nz/files/documents/christchurch-central-recovery-plan.pdf)

This is a strange comment that assumes the building isn’t repairable, and only makes contingency for this scenario.  There is no mention of what happens if the Town Hall is repairable.

A FAQ on the CCDU website reiterates this position here and says:

‘Why is the Town Hall not shown on the Blueprint Plan? There are still some decisions to be made as to whether all or parts of the Town Hall can be repaired by CCC. If it is not able to be repaired, a performing arts centre containing two auditoria of 500 and 1500 seats respectively will be built in the Performing Arts Precinct as shown on the Blueprint Plan.’

Keep the key words ‘If it is not able to be repaired’ in mind.

Another side story, for reasons unknown to me the Council was underinsured on a number of buildings including the Town Hall and instead of insurance covering the $129 million dollar bill, only $70 million is coming from insurance.

The next part of this story is that Bob Parker asked the council staff to look at demolishing everything in the building apart from the auditorium (which is recognized as the most significant feature of the building). I don’t know where Bob got this idea from.  The council staff ordered heritage, and architecture reports to be made in response to this.  In general the feedback from experts was that this partial demolition makes no sense and the building was designed as a complex so needs to stay that way. Strangely the Council staff ignored this commentary and advised the Councillors to adopt the ‘destroy everything but the auditorium’ strategy.  The Councillors on this committee rejected partial retention recommendations and put this recommendation to the full council.

At this point Minister Brownlee seemed to get very frustrated and vented his anger at the decision to keep the building in a number of media. Including this interview with Mike Yardley.  I responded by rebutting his points in this article on the 19th of November http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/AK1211/S00510/response-to-brownlee-on-christchurch-town-hall.htm

A few weeks later the full council voted unanimously to support the full retention of the Town Hall, and it was put in their budget to pay for it.  Remember the phrase, if it is not able to be repaired.  Well it is able to be repaired, and the CCC will pay for it.  The CCDU blueprint is part of the recovery plan and this is a legal document so while Mr Brownlee has extraordinary emergency powers powers he can not break due process and if he did try to over-rule the council there is good chances he would be  challenged under judicial review. Hopefully we don’t have to find out.

So the next question is: If we have an amazing building, of great value, that is repairable then why does the minister still want to demolish it? Again, another good question.  When I say this isn’t really about the Town Hall it is because it is the $70 million of insurance money that is really at stake here, and this comes back to a very hard ball negotiation happening between the CCC and the government at the moment.

In the first draft plan by the CCC the community was consulted on what they wanted and they proposed a number of buildings at certain sizes. The sizes of the buildings were also the scale (both in a business and urban sense) that the council staff thought was appropriate for Christchurch.  The new government-led blueprint, bravely or foolhardily, upscaled the convention centre and the stadium significantly and added other projects.  They have fronted for some of this money, and the council has too, but there is apparently (again its all secret so what would I know) a gap between the two.  The CCC has the advantage because they have the moral authority to argue for the smaller versions and it is also prudent of them not to end up having to maintain large expensive items like Stadiums and Convention centres.  The government has however bet the bank on the BIG blueprint and don’t want to lose control now. Negotiations continue. (announced next week!) Now some would suggest that Minister Brownlee’s quite verbose media presence in regards to the Town Hall and the consenting problems in the last week is less about those actual issues and more about putting pressure on the councilors during negotiations.

There is a report from Council staff to the councilors due in the next few weeks which outlines more precise costs and plans for the Town Hall. I don’t think any of us can really comment this until it this is made public. We will know more then.

I would like us to not get caught up in the framing that Minister Brownlee is making of this.  It is only the CCDU that has set up this weird choice that either we have a Town Hall or an Arts Precinct.  Or as he puts it, ‘You can either have your old broken run down past it used by date Town Hall, or you can have a new state of the art shiny fantastic arts precinct.’  To which I’d reply ‘You can keep your world renowned Town Hall that has served the city so proudly for the past forty years and has some of the best acoustics in the world or you can have an uncosted sketch of an idea with no details, no business case, or no idea of the desired quality.’

The 100-day plan came out almost a year ago, and at the time I wrote that it looked ok but that more details were needed to really understand it.  Almost 300 days later and we still don’t know what is planned for the convention centre, stadium, arts precinct, or any of the anchor projects.  It’s extraordinary. So we are meant to support the demolition of one the most important buildings in the country without any knowledge of what might replace it? Because that is what the minister is asking us. Really this is what he expects us to do.

Now I completely accept that some arts and cultural groups in Christchurch might be really excited about the new arts precinct.  I respect that.  But until we get some idea of what the government is actually proposing this is a false argument.  As a guide though there is a rule of thumb that very high quality auditorium spaces as we have with the Town Hall cost around $20,000 per seat. That puts the Town Hall at around $300 million dollars.  A similar building (based on the acoustic design of our town hall) in Paris has reached almost half a billion.  Now, do you really think that the government is seriously looking at that sort of money an arts precinct.  And if not why would we not spend $50 million to protect the town hall we already have.

Some suggest (Link to article on rebuilding Christchurch) that the $70 million is needed to not only help get the arts precinct going but a business plan is also linking this into the convention centre too. So in a twisted way the construction of the CCDU’s big convention centre is based on the need to demolish our best live arts space.  I don’t know if there is any accuracy to this, because, you guessed it, the whole process is being done in secret.

The other thing to mention is that the proposal is for the demolition of an Town Hall and replacement with an performing arts centre. Town Hall’s are fundamentally civic in nature and performing art is about well, performing arts. If we keep the Town Hall we get both, if we demolish it we lose the civic aspect.  When people say ‘we need a new Town Hall’ they misunderstand that this isn’t what is proposed.  In fact we don’t even know who would own the new one, or who would run it.

The most frustrating thing about this is that this public battle now means that the government and the council aren’t talking to each other and the plans to keep the Town Hall are not being considered as part of the city rebuild.  What we really need is:

A. Some information about what we need as a city, what can we actually support.

B. More information from both the CCC and CCDU about what their plans are for the Town Hall and performing arts area.

C. A short and in depth consultation with the relevant parties to see what great and creative solution we can come up with.

It’s completely irresponsible to talk about demolition when all the options aren’t even on the table yet.  This is banana republic stuff.

Call me naïve, but why can’t we just have all the information in front of us and have a serious grown up conversation about what to do. I suspect we still might be able to come up with a plan that means we all win.

How about a smaller and more flexible arts precinct, keep the Town Hall, fix up the auditorium, re-invent the James Hay, and have all this facing into the victoria Square with the new Ngai Tahu cultural centre. Can someone in power explain to me why this can’t work?

Things fall apart

It’s easy to be relentlessly negative in the face of complex things. The difficult is easy to caste as the fault of incompetence, and in reality sometimes things are just really really hard.  Yet, this same thought is too often used as a mask for poor process, poor decision making, and poor consultation.  I’m going to tell two stories today, one positive, the other negative, and in my view the key hinge that makes one story hopeful and one depressing is the amount of openness there is to the processes.  We’ve had long enough in Christchurch to learn some lessons about how to do things here, and two years on from a disaster we are stupid if we don’t learn from the inevitable failures and mistakes.

Firstly, the good news. Congratulations to all the teams behind the two competitions in the Christchurch CBD: the Council and CERA lead breathe competition, and the community-led Peterborough Village competition.  The results from these competitions can be seen here and here.  It’s hard to summarise such a diversity of entries, but I can say looking across the entries it is for me the first time I’ve felt some real excitement and hope about the type of city that might emerge in the future here. We see in these entries a real willingness to learn from the planning and building mistakes of the past 5o years with project full of exciting ideas that are environmentally progressive, affordable, and liveable.   Importantly the entries are diverse and come from around the world.   Critical to the outpouring of good work in these projects is the process of competition, a tradition long practiced in Europe for public projects.   Competitions work: firstly, because information about the projects has to be made public, this creates an openness and transparency about the schemes, land use is known, budgets are known, so that both the public, and the relevant experts (and the critical overlap of both) are able to  mull over ideas, critique them, and get used to how things might change.  The second important point is that there is not just competition between firms, but competition of ideas.  Alternatives can be compared, contrasted, weighed up and considered, again by both experts (as judges) and the community.   All this constitutes a recovery of not just the built environment but a sense of participation and involvement with the people that live in these places.   I’ve been harsh on some of the retro-modernism that is been planned for the city and the lack of talent in some of the big design firms in Christchurch. But here in these competitions we see the importance and designers and their role in formulating new ideas into built form, and crystallising peoples wishes into space and form.

The light shining from these competitions could not contrast more with the dark shadows falling over the secretive government-led inner-city planning being led by the CCDU, and CERA; which is essentially planning by cabinet and treasury.   Now, this next passage is written with the pre-condition that most of the comment about CERA is based on 2nd hand reports. But when you have a secretive government agency that won’t do any public engagement then rumours is all you’ve got to work with, and its a small place, rumours tend to be accurate here.  The idea what we can’t make public conversation because they don’t want it is to fall hook line and sinker for the political management running the program.

The points being though that we have some MAJOR projects being proposed in Christchurch. It is now two years after the major event, and nine months since the launch of the large government led-blue print and essentially the public has been told nothing of these projects, and has had no input into them.    The arts precinct, the convention centre, the stadium, and the frame are huge projects in which the business cases have not been made public yet, the design process has no public involvement. The word from behind the iron curtain is that there is a huge fight happening amongst the major property owners about the retail section that will replace the container mall, with one major owner refusing to show their schemes to CERA and proceeding directly with the council, and others are breaking up promised land sharing deals.   All this while smaller land owners with schemes ready to go are being told to give up on their land. Apparently the convention centre remains unknown as to whether it makes any financial sense, and the british team designing the Avon Otakaro scheme is struggling to work in a foreign city with extraordinary time pressures and no ability for public consultation.

Over two years on now 80% of the city is flat and empty, they are still months away from re-opening the centre of the city.  Does it tell you anything that the only significant rebuilding happening so far is in the areas the government has the least to do with?   And this is from an agency that set itself up with a authoritarian mandate, and with a planning logic that was dominant in the 1950s that wildly out of kilter with global best practice today, that was aiming to get things done quickly.   I really think CERA are their own worst enemies. The fortress mentality is ruining their relationship with the people they are supposed to be working for.  The Avon Otakaro scheme is a perfect example.  What is to lose from  making a public a sketch design and getting feedback on it?  Asking the public for specific information and feedback, with a couple of public workshops and some online tools with the council and CERA and other s are getting quite good at you could easily get some really useful feedback on how people use the area, what they want, and what they like and don’t like about a scheme.  This could be done in a couple of weeks relatively cheaply, seems reasonable for a public space $100 million project.  It’s certainly normal, and would give the designers much needed feedback on their design.  I just don’t get it.

I think it’s time for the government to have a cup of tea with the people of Christchurch, and re-think the way they are running this whole thing.  I just talked to someone from CERA today who was claiming that everything they do is for the people of Christchurch.  And hence lies the problem, they should be working WITH the people of Christchurch, not FOR us.   It’s pretty simple and with the amazing online tools these days its actually quite easy to do.   Oh and more competitions!

Interview with “Worrying About Money” Architects: The rise of Post-Modern Brutalism.

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To coincide with the public launch of one of their recent designs, a Principal from the celebrated Christchurch architecture firm Worrying About Money (WAM) Architects was generous enough to be interviewed by Freerange Press.

The new inner city building will be one of the first post-quake office buildings to be constructed downtown, and as such it is both a logistical challenge and loaded with symbolism.    WAM is responsible for around 98.7% of all the rebuild projects in Christchurch. They are building 101,304 houses, 12,053 office buildings, 68 car parking buildings, and has won 189 out of 87 competitions and tenders they applied for so far, so we asked ‘Does this building signal a particular direction for the ‘new Christchurch’ ?

WAM:  Christchurch has a number of important periods of architectural history, the early colonial, the gothic revival, the post-war modernism,  and its evolution into a robust brutalist modernism, as exemplified by Sir Miles Warren and Maurice Mahoney in buildings such as the Christchurch Town Hall.  We feel that the next evolution of styles started to develop in the 80s, with some excellent glass and steel buildings, but that great style was distracted by the concerns about the environment and bi-culturalism.

FR:  Do you see the post-quake urban development as a way to return to this lost opportunity?

WAM: Definitely.  What we are trying to develop with buildings such as this is a form of post-modern brutalism, the people of Christchurch are understandably feeling vulnerable about the built environment, and we think they need some strong, aggressive forms to make them feel safe again in the city.  There is nothing further from a dangerous brick facade than the cutting edge use of glass and steel, that we are developing with buildings like this.  People have shown their true beauty down here over the past few years, and we really believe that they should be able to see themselves reflected in the buildings that come out of this time.

FR: How do you think this type of building will respond to criticism?

WAM:  Certainly, you can look at a books like Gerald Melling’s Mid-City Crisis, which we reference in the building facade of the new building launched today, and say it’s a scathing attack on the shallowness of the profession and the willing corporate take-over of architecture in the 1980s, but we believe what Gerald was really articulating in his slightly obtuse style was a real love for the contemporary materials such as glass and steel, their sculptural characteristics, and their warmth and charm.  I mean, doesn’t everyone enjoy those mirror elevators where you can almost look into infinity? That’s some buzzy shit.

FR: Well, we at Freerange are certainly excited to see the construction of another 800 glass facade buildings that look like they are straight from the late 1980s. You must be very busy with all the projects, so thank you for your time. All the best.

 

 

 

Ecnarusni: first TWO years in a munted canterbury settlement

(with apologies to samuel butler and many others besides)

To whomsoever the soil at any time belongs, to him belong the fruits of it. White parasols, and elephants mad with pride are the flowers of a grant of land. Sir Wm. Jonestranslation of an Indian grant of land, found at Tanna.

The streets of Christchurch have not been the same since September 4th 2010; even less so from February 22nd onward. Different flows have appeared; flows of detoured traffic conditions, flows of conversation veering always to the last shake, flows of the a/effluent, flows of money, flows of  light from new holes in the fabric.

Green uniforms of army guarding a closed ‘cbd’ were the first signs of an unusual time; suspicion is pre-supposed with the green men. Bored teen soldiers racing a LAV up Oxford Terrace an early event for me to note that energy transfers; released energy is absorbed again, and a lot of energy can be absorbed into teenage soldiers with nothing much to do; throttling it in a LAV the subsequent release. Cycling through the streets became an adrenaline sport, requiring constant vigilance, like liberty….they were sitting on a deck chair at a card table for 8 hours a day, protecting an empty city. The green men, first strangeness of the strange days that have found us.  Earthquakes have a physiology, why wouldn’t they? Dissipation of energy on a graduating scale. Human affairs, on the other hand, tend toward runaway. It is said that there is no such thing as a natural catastrophy, only the human response. The resilience, preparedness, and adaptability of those affected determines the true extent of damage. Nature did what it always does, what does it know of catastrophy? ; that concept takes time.

Having lived through these intense years since (and strangely monotonous ones, as most social interaction reverts to stories of aftershocks), what harrows most, after the initial adrenaline subsidence, is the stagnation occurring now with property issues; namely, insurance. There, I’ve said it- ‘ that which must not be named’, or as the Goons put it, ‘insurance, the white man’s burden’. Well, guess what, it’s everyone’s problem now.

James Lunday, an urban theorist speaking at the one of the tedx conferences, was suitably bemused in questioning the use of language after the first two events. The timidity of the term ‘munted’ seemed to insult his Glaswegian sensibilities, as he reminded us that the city was no longer munted after February 22, it was fucked. Now, a further two years along, and with ruptures of discontent hissing forth more frequently, can we now have a stronger word than fucked please James. Munted, fucked, ? Mcfucked? ; and so to the theme of this story, what does an uninsurable city look like? …perhaps a bit like this one.

Insurance is the elephant in the room, or would be if any room could be located among the layers of re- re- re -. No more ra ra ra, it is all re re re ; the layers of the underwriting maze. The draft of the City Plan elaborated so closely the views, opinions and desires of the community and key stakeholders (although, by this elusive terminology, the community are considered separate to stakeholders, and stakeholders separate to key stakeholders – and so on ad infinitumis someone being flattered?), that the elephant had temporarily been forgotten amongst the deserved glow of a responsive, exciting ….planning document!

Catalyst projects, river green belts, bicycle recognition, light rail links to the university, and even a suggestion to what became the largest speech bubble graphic of all – MORE GREEN SPACE. (Although this phrase may represent, in its lack of any Quality whatsoever, a real turning point toward actual engagement, through the sheer necessity for an expedition toward language that indicates Quality. Read again; MORE GREEN SPACE, it doesn’t actually say anything. More Hagley Park? More thirsty lawns? – fear and panic seem to drive people toward these dogmatic statements – the other species being the NO brigade [NO concrete, NO Cars] – words without qualitative aspects)

Worthy results, though, of a thorough consultation process that has pushed popular sentiment as generator to such a level that the results almost resemble placation. Such a prominence that one is left with an ever sharpening focus of what such offerings may be concealing. This is where the insurance elephant enters again, not so much mad with pride, as impassive, perhaps even sympathetic – “all admirable plans, but…” That’s a big but. Initial exuberance flees with the reportage and indicators which suggest that risk assessors many miles away will decide the fate of Christchurch. Not 106,000 ideas gathered from active citizens, and not meticulously compiled and presented vision plans.

On a good day the City Plan says all the right things, almost regurgitating public sentiment. On a bad day…..the city is uninsurable.

The Mayor is an ex game show host afterall and seems to have recalled those latent skills, only this time offering both the money AND the box; does the City Plan remain only a draft, a rehearsal so to speak. When the lights go up, does every AND become an OR again? with the ‘community’ consultation being the sparkly offerings dangled under noses to fill time between the ad breaks?

Meanwhile, the elephant has been dressed in orange fluoro and taken on tour.

Some wider ranging insights on insurance and its more far reaching ambitions;

(both taken from ‘The Perception of the Middle’ – Nathan Moore)

….”but the more useful insight is that developed by Donzlot and Ewald in terms of insurance. It is not simply a question of trying to protect against the future by assessing risks in the present, but of making the process of that assessment profitable in every conceivable way. It is this profitability of the future that motivates control, extended to every image of the universe in the hope of replacing it with an ever modulating universe of data. Decisions become impossible because the construction of consequences, in the form of further decisions, is displaced by discrete, and isomorphic, choices, in which the aim is not to extend the consequence, but rather to limit it through new understandings of liability.”

Perhaps the most appalling aspect of control is that it has reduced the City to nothing more than a representation of conflicts, and in this has sought to institute a new l aw of the jungleto favour the survival of the fittest but as Nietzsche pointed out, it is always the weakest who survive! … the artisan continues to extract combinations that are not determined by the needs of conflict. This reminds us that decisions can still be made, and that the City remains. Rather than a world of choice, we should re-discover cities of decision.

New Brighton Creative Quarter

Over the Summer break, I was Temporary Curator at the Creative Quarter in New Brighton. The Creative Quarter often referred to as “the cQ” is inside the heart of New Brighton mall – 101 Brighton Mall. Check it out on www.facebook.com/CQ.Brighton

With the help of many volunteers the space was created. Housing a 10m2 office/workshop/anything room, a stage, seating, sail, sandpit, running track, display board, artists and a range of artwork. The 10m2 workshop also utilising the suns power with solar power. We are even able to run film nights in the space with only solar power!!

What an awesome space it is. With the help of Sue Davidson’s Mural Madness, many artists came into the space transforming the space into an outside gallery.

Check out mural madness on the web: http://muralmadnessinbrighton.blogspot.co.nz/

Check out two artists from the project: Marie Ockleford http://marieockleford.com/ and Michael Springer http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michael-Springer-visual-artist/119714948083979

Coming into the position with fresh ideas I was keen to collect the community organisations together, the groups renewing the Sumner, Addington and Lyttelton Community, as together we can share ideas and resources.

The Sumner Community produced these awesome bumper stickers originally free to residents are now available for a gold coin in the Sumner village.  I’m keen to see Renew Brighton and the Creative Quarter to follow suit with a bumper sticker, to connect the community.

Previously living in Sumner, it’s great to see “SumnerRocks” on cars all around the city – I’m always wondering if I know them from my time playing rugby or squash.

We have showed many films at cQ like WhaleRider thanks to South Pacific Pictures.

What films are suited to the outside? Are there any particular films that must be watched outside?

Maybe Horror films are easier to watch outside, I can run away this way.

Gapfiller have organised some amazing outdoor films on architecture, being passionate about architecture it was great to see the small Christchurch architecture crowd in attendance.

How would you manage a temporary space in Christchurch?

We have had Dallas Matoe working inside the cQ, a talented woodcarver. Running workshops to the public on traditional Maori woodcarving techniques.

In the future I’d like to see a map detailing the wonderful things happening in New Brighton, a gig guide etc. If you’re keen to help promote the space get in touch with Renew Brighton and cQ on renewbrighton@gmail.com and cq.brighton@gmail.com

They are looking at putting on a night market in the future.

New Brighton has so many opportunites !!

Christchurch has so many opportunities.

But you know that, you’re reading …

cQ Landscape