A catastrophic earthquake hit Christchurch in February 2011, destroying much of the central business district. After the rescue and recovery and the restoration of a basic infrastructure, future regeneration was focused on how the city could transition in to a sustainable “City in a Garden.” In particular emphasis was placed on how the River Avon could contribute to this strategy, by forming a “river precinct”, which would create an organic green spine as it flowed out to Pegasus Bay.
It was envisaged that the precinct would be fully accessible, with a pedestrian promenade and separate cycleway running its full length. Boardwalks and terracing would allow access to the river and lighting would be used to improve safety and enhance the natural beauty of the central business district.
The overall recovery plan envisaged a greener, more accessible city with a compact core, stronger built identity and a greater focus on people and nature.
BDP along with local consultants Opus won a competition to develop “The River Precinct”. Matt and Nichola, who worked for BDP Manchester and are ex-students of The MMU Landscape Programme volunteered to work in Christchurch and for seven months were based in “The Big Red Shed” an old carpet store, that survived the earthquake. They formed a multi-disciplinary team with engineers, ecologists and planners, working on different stages of the precinct to deliver not only the vision, but a full package of construction drawings. One of the interesting challenges was that as most of the buildings along the precinct had been demolished there was no building line to work too, so their design work had to be flexible enough to accommodate future uses, that were not necessarily fully resolved.
A combination of the selection of carefully judged imported materials (Christchurch has few local building materials) and a vegetation palette, which utilised local plant material and some imported exotics, carefully assessed for their resilience in a range of future scenarios, including further earth movements defined the characterisation of space.
One of the strongest themes evident in Matt and Nichola’s talk was the level of cooperation between consultants and dialogue with clients and the local population. It appeared that Landscape Architects were key contributors to the regeneration process and their range of skills and ability to project a holistic approach to problem solving were a key factor in developing appropriate responses.