At 12.51pm on the 22nd of February, 2011, Christchurch was devastated by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake. At the time, Christchurch was New Zealand’s second-largest city, home to over 300,000 people. Unlike other New Zealand cities, such as Napier and Wellington, Christchurch was not thought to be close to any active fault lines. The exception is the Alpine Fault, which runs through the middle of the South Island.
The effects of the quake were enormous. Hundreds of buildings were rendered unsafe and subsequently demolished; the entire Central Business District was cordoned off for 18 months and 185 people were killed. It was one of the deadliest peacetime disasters in New Zealand’s history and has come to define and determine how the city functions economically and socially.
Originally designed along the River Avon with Christ Church Cathedral at its heart, Christchurch was formed in the English style. As Christchurch is rebuilt, the redevelopment and planning of the new city centre must honour its built and cultural history. Post earthquake, many of the historical buildings that came to define the city were impractical to repair. Many people have fought to save some of the architecture of historic significance, but insurance disputes and logistical problems have made their efforts mostly unsuccessful.
On the 30th of July 2012 the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and the Christchurch City Council released The Blueprint Plan, outlining major anchor projects and precincts throughout a new central city framework. The plan includes a health precinct near justice and emergency services precincts, a metro sports facility and stadium as well as innovation, performing arts and retail precincts. As part of the transitional plan for the new city centre, a temporary green “frame” has also been outlined as a key part of the plans design. The frame will provide a green gateway to the city and connect Hagley Park with the Avon River, as well as surround the south and east of the CBD, acting as a boundary to this once busy downtown commercial and residential area.
However, the blueprint doesn’t account for the controversy surrounding the acquisition processes used to secure land that falls within the plan. Property forcibly acquired within the frame is said to be released by the government for private purchase and development within the next decade, causing current land and business owners – who have been forced to accept buyouts at below market value – to foresee their land eventually being on sold for double or triple what it was acquired for.
This project seeks to explore the disparity between the uniquely subjective experiences of being in a disaster-affected place, representing this through photography. From Where I Stand shows the evolving Christchurch landscape in a diptych style. Frames represent familiar elements of the ‘old’ city, put into context alongside scenes depicting elements of rebuild or demolition. These settings show defining aspects of Christchurch that have remained constant – the Avon river, the Port Hills, the historic trees – and serve to confirm our memory of place. The focus of these pieces is on pre-existing green spaces within the city, moving toward those that are destined to be ‘green’ as part of the city blueprint plan. These photographs hint at the invisible structures that make up a city – such as the social and cultural outlines of the place, especially its built history, all of which influence how a city functions.
Within the setting sun, the reflections on the water and the human and built elements depicted, I offer you something for contemplation. This landscape lends us hope. For the longer you look, the more you will see the city transform. In these photographs you will not only see what remains, but what was. Look hard enough and you will also see what Christchurch city may become.
For more information and for images from the other collaborating artists, visit http://centralcityframe.virb.com/