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Notes on the Geography of New Zealand: Christchurch

How, after a devastating series of earthquakes, does New Zealand's second or (more probably now) third city fare?

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Like all of New Zealand's cities, Christchurch is on the coast, where you'd never know anything had happened.

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The Avon River flows on an easterly course through the city as gently as the song. There is public access along most of its length, an astonishing act of civic kindness.

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You don't have to go far inland, however, before you spot trouble, in this case at the Barbadoes Street Cemetery. The stones hadn't been righted four years after the disaster, which suggests that civic hands must have been full.

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Until 2012 the city had three Intercon hotels. Then it had none. Only the sign remains of the Holiday Inn on the Avon, just across from the cemetery.

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A sheath on either side of the river was demarcated. Within this area, homes would no longer be permitted, because the ground had proven subject to liquifaction. Some 10,000 homes have been demolished, some in ruinous condition but others not. It hasn't gone over well with homeowners forced out.

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Whole streets lie abandoned, presumably destined for some kind of rewilding.

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Here's a home that could have been repaired, if not for the wholesale condemnation. Owners within and beyond the boundary of the condemned area did get some help from the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, but payments were capped at $100,000 per dwelling and $20,000 for personal effects. Beyond that, homeowners depended on private insurance.

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Clear enough?

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Downtown, the central police station was earmarked for demolition.

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A few days after this photo was taken, the building was imploded. Meantime, water kept the dust down while a "nibbler" did its work.

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Lots of substantial buildings in Christchurch Central were damaged more than they appeared to be. That was the case with these offices of Public Trust, a government corporation providing trust services to some 50,000 estates.

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A similar case: the State Insurance Building had housed not only Kaplan International English School but the Design and Arts College of New Zealand. And the trompe l'oeil building on the left?

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We're looking at what had once been the Trinity Congregational Church. The church had been sold in 1974 to State Insurance, the owner of the adjoining block. For a time the ex-church was a commercial wedding chapel. In 2006 it became a restaurant and music school. The quake shut it down, and reconstruction has been slow. Meanwhile, someone has a theatrical sense of humor. The architect, Benjamin Mountford, was largely responsible for the Victorian Gothic that is (or was) so characteristic of the city.

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New buildings, like this BNZ building, weren't always spared, but demolition was halted in 2012 because of asbestos. Nibblers wouldn't be safe; instead, sections of the building would eventually be removed intact, a process called "cut-and-crane."

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Many of the Mountfordian buildings are in grievous shape. Here's the building (at 159 Oxford Terrace) called Our City or O-Tautahi. From 1887 to 1024 it housed the city council. Later the Chamber of Commerce used the space and, still later, the building became an exhibition and events center. In 2015 it was propped up pending restoration. Estimates were that the work would continue across the city for decades and cost NZ$40 billion.

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A lot of the city's heritage architecture wasn't very old, but people liked it anyway. Here, at 381 Montreal Street, is the so-called old teacher's college, built in 1930 and before the earthquakes converted into apartments--Peterborough Centre--with each unit sold separately. The divided ownership complicated rebuilding because some of the owners didn't want to rebuild.

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The city's pride and joy was its Anglican cathedral, and bitter controversy swirled over the Church's stated wish to demolish rather than repair the building.

In the two years after the quake, 585 of the city's 1,784 heritage buildings were demolished, which perhaps explains the dismay in the voices of city councillors. Angry that the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority was not listening, one councillor said, "We have got to the stage where the frustration is immense...I think we need to start meeting face-to-face with the minister." Another said "The view of the people in this city is not being listened to.... It is a disgrace." A third said, "This is a loss of democracy; it's like trying to negotiate with kidnappers." (See Lois Cairs in The Press, November 29, 2012.) The building at the left edge is a Novotel, which had been built in 2010 and which suffered only minor damage. It reopened in 2013 after removal of the cordon placed around the city centre, which had been guarded by soldiers for 857 days.

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The cathedral had been designed by the eminent George Gilbert Scott: nothing had been too good for the leaders of the Canterbury Association. The Association had been created in 1848 as a settlement scheme and by the early 1850s had imported some 26 shiploads of pilgrims--about a hundred pilgrims in each. Construction of the church began in 1860, and the nave was consecrated in 1881.

Yes, the cathedral did have a tower; it was demolished in 2012. So were most of the neighboring buildings. The survivors include the Novotel on the left and the Millennium Hotel on the right. The Millennium was still closed when these pictures were taken in 2015.

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Something has to fill up the space, pending construction of permanent buildings. Here's one idea.

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With some explanation.

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The arches are in the background. In the middle distance is Captain Cook, who came to New Zealand three times; the statue was unveiled in 1932. In the foreground is you-know-who. The earthquake did her (and Cook) no damage. The square in which they stand was originally the town market place; it became a park, Victoria Square, in 1897.

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The figures on the base of the statue of Victoria include representations of the Canterbury settlers.

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Perhaps the figures represent Edward Gibbon Wakefield and John Robert Godley. Wakefield was the man behind the New Zealand Company, which had already established four other colonies; he drew in Godley to help create a colony under Church of England sponsorship. The colony was named Canterbury for the archbishop, and its chief town was named after Godley's Oxford college. (When did it become one word instead of two? One of Life's Little Mysteries.)

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Forward thinking.

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More Victoriana. The clock was intended for the top of the council building, but when it arrived with its iron tower in 1860 it proved too heavy for the site and was put in storage for 30 years. During the jubilee celebrations, it was sent back to the UK for renovation, then erected on a stone base. In 1930 it was moved to a new location. The clock was replaced, and further work was done in 1989. The earthquake of 2011 seriously damaged the structure, but by now it was clear that the city was determined to keep the clock, and so it was repaired yet again.

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"Doing what needs to get done."

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Here's Neil Dawson's Spires. The sculptor explains, "There has been so much loss in the city, including a loss of location. There is a need for markers and reminders. I wanted here to recreate the experience of looking up at a point in the sky..."

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It's suspended as though frozen for a moment.

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Meanwhile work continues, as indicated by the tower cranes and the parking for construction workers. Some 80 percent of the CBD had been cleared by 2015.

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Reconstruction was organized around anchor projects like this one, Re:START, a new and temporary central business district. It opened with 27 business in October, 2011, and gradually rose to hold over 50.

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For example.

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There's no shortage of prompts to help you know where you are and where you (and the city) are going.

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Reconstruction outside the condemned area continues.

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Almost complete.

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A few heritage buildings downtown have been reopened. This is the Old Government Building, which had been converted in 1996 to the Heritage Christchurch Hotel. Damaged, it reopened. Remarkably, it's basement pool survived the quake intact.

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For most of Christchurch Central, the future must be new buildings, but you have to wonder at the cheek of the architects and engineers who build like this, at 151 Cambridge Terrace. The story gets more interesting when you look at the construction technology used here and its several cousins. We'll look at it. Meanwhile, Deloitte leases the two top floors.

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Another building comes along. Nope: not concrete. It's tubular steel.

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A third.

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A fourth. Here's the clever bit: the buildings are designed to rest on "friction pendulum bearings" placed just above the foundation. This way, the building in an earthquake swings freely as a unit atop rollers and is isolated from the ground. Additionally, the bearings are nested in three stages. A mild earthquake may move the lowest bearing, but only stronger ones will activate the higher ones. The superstructure of "moment resisting frames" is rigid enough that bracing isn't needed on the facade.

For more detail, see http://151cambridgeterrace.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Building-today.pdf

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