Archives for posts with tag: buildings

This is an interesting story from Time about the Disaster Divide:

It refers to the vast discrepancy between developed and developing nations in the death toll from natural disasters… That’s why the Bay Area can suffer a 6.9 quake in 1989 and lose just 63 people, while Haiti can suffer a quake just a bit stronger in 2010 and lose at least 100,000 people. Poverty — and even more, poor governance and corruption — is the multiplier of natural disasters.

The article focuses in on South-Asia, which has large populations of people living in a high-quake risk area, with weak building standards. I think we in New Zealand like to think we’re not really included in that group of countries – and probably, we shouldn’t be. But when you look at the way the government has delayed the implementation of building standards for up to 30 years, should we really be so smug? Yup, we consider ourselves a developed nation – but that doesn’t mean we can afford to be complacent when it comes to the protection of our own citizens.


In his quest to get the GCSB bill passed, Prime Minister John Key has invoked the spectre of terrorism as a reason for increased state surveillance, first with the Boston Bombing, then with Al Qaeda. He has called upon this largely hypothetical threat to serve his own political ends, whilst when presented with a threat that is real, tangible and I would argue far more scary – earthquakes – he’s happy to defer to the business lobby

We know what earthquakes can do. We don’t know when they will happen, but we’ve had two examples in the last hundred years of the damage they can cause when unleashed under or near a city. Yet the government would rather chase the windmills of terrorists. 

I’ve been up in Wellington a bit, and while it is great to be back in a proper city, with cafes, bars, movies and shops, the place scares the shit out of me. I was up about a fortnight ago, in the week of the big(ish) Seddon shake. Buildings that would come crumbling down in a reasonable shock have yellow stickers, displayed with less prominence than advertisements for phone cards to call China. I saw a red-stickered building, three or four stories, just off Cuba St. I went up to the building to read the sticker – it said “dangerous building – DO NOT APPROACH”. I had to get right up to the building’s window to read this A4 sign – the building should have had a fence around it, footpath closed.

I don’t want to scaremonger. This is a very difficult, very expensive problem to solve. Eric Crampton has some ideas on how to resolve it which are worth considering. When I hear absentee landlords on the radio complaining about how much this will cost them, I get so, so angry. The propertied classes are already the most entitled in this country, and here they are, deferring the cost of their negligence onto the next generation. While they bitch about the financial impact they should remember: you can throw money at a building to save it, but no amount of money will bring someone back to life.

On the morning of September the 4th, Christchurch was hit by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. Fortunately, no-one died in the quake, but the city has sustained major damage.

Mexican restaurant Alvarados

Mexican restaurant Alvarados

In the days, weeks and months to come, people who work and live in the central city will be assessing their places or work and living. Many are already condemned or destroyed. A number of buildings that are still standing will turn out to be too damaged to occupy.

The damage to the city, and the rebuild that follows, are a once in a generation – or even two generation – chance to shape a city for the century ahead. This is an opportunity, not only for Canterbury, but for all of New Zealand, to consider how we want to live, how our society will be shaped, and what the influence on society of buildings can be. Christchurch has a proud architectural history, with beautiful Gothic buildings such as the Museum, Arts Centre and Cathedral – though we also have a great number of Brutalist, modern buildings, which are often overlooked. Though they polarise people, the town hall, the University of Campus at Ilam and the High Court are examples of this style of architecture, and provide a strong contrast with the older buildings.

What I would like to see is a city that is designed for central city living, with sustainable, environmental innovations wherever possible, which encourages communities to develop and flourish. In the wake of the earthquake, there will clearly be a focus on safe, strong buildings. While there will be money coming in from the government and from insurance companies, I worry that if the authorities maintain a laisez-faire, hands-off attitude to the rebuild, we will do serious damage to Christchurch – and possibly the final nail in the coffin for the central city. So here on this blog, I want to elucidate my ideas on what could happen to the central city, to bring together links to innovative, creative urban design ideas, and to try and influence the people who are going to lead this reconstruction effort.