Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Saturday, October 9, 2010

After the quake

On waking up five weeks ago and hearing an Radio New Zealand announcer saying “we’ll tell you more about the earthquake in the news in ten minutes”, I did what everyone seeking instant news does these days – I reached for my iPhone and the Twitter feed on it. It was immediately clear that Christchurch had been hit by a large quake, at the time said to be 7.3, shallow and close to the city. There were many, many tweets about people’s experiences and their shock, and some were already carrying pictures of devastated buildings.

There are many human stories associated with the quake – the best being that no-one died – and it’s not my purpose here to go through those. I will say, though, that I was touched to discover that the thoughts of many Christchurch folk, after the main quake struck, were toward Wellington which they feared had been wiped from the map.

There are many people who have lost their houses or are living in homes with no sewage facilities. There are those who have lost businesses, and there is pretty much everyone in Canterbury who just wishes the endless aftershocks would stop. If that describes you, you have my sympathy and my respect. I’m not going to write more about the human cost, though. It just seems too early.

This post is a lament for the beautiful old buildings in the CBD, many of which have been lost already or will be over the next few weeks.

I went to Christchurch this week to visit work colleagues, and I sent a couple of hours wandering around taking photographs of commercial, civic and ecclesiastical buildings. I’m told that many parts of suburbia are as bad, with shops having fallen and, of course, people’s houses being damaged.

The previous time that I went to Christchurch was a few weeks before the quake. I marveled at the architecture in the city centre. I walked along Manchester Street several times drinking the views of arched windows and decorated brick facades.

Manchester Court North view
Post-quake Christchurch CBD is very different. Manchester Street is blocked by razor wire to keep people away from Manchester Court, New Zealand’s first ever high-rise, which now seems certain to be demolished.

IMG_0028.JPGWe are told that Manchester Court is too badly damaged to save. It’s hard to get a really good picture of it now because of the barriers. This one shows a diagonal crack running through the brickwork in an upper story.

Manchester Court from West
This picture shows how many windows, frames and all, have fallen out of the structure. It also shows a typical modern Christchurch CBD building – a hideous 1970s box made of exposed concrete and smoked glass. Every other building on the intersection that Manchester Court dominates is as ugly as this one.

Westpac Tower concrete damage
Lots of buildings have lost windows, even relatively modern ones. Broken panes are everywhere. Some quite modern buildings have upwards of half of their windows broken. This modern tower shows damage to its concrete pillars, although it’s still in use so presumably the damage has been assessed as not structural.

collapsed shop.JPG
Shops have collapsed throughout the city leaving rubble-filled holes in street frontages. Riccarton High St has three in a hundred metres or so. This one is in the CBD.

condemned buildinggrab
Everywhere in the CBD there are beautiful old buildings with red stickers on their doors and fencing around them. This one is next to Edison Hall. It seems likely to meet the same fate as many others.

Row of containers in a street.JPGEven walking around the streets is challenging at the moment. Although the rubble has mostly been cleared, pavements are in many cases closed off, and in some places whole streets are closed. Shipping containers are being used to shield the public from possible building collapses. In this picture you can see how a piece of a cornice has fallen, probably in an aftershock, to a place marked by a toppled traffic cone.

badly damaged facade.JPGA zoomed-in view shows how badly the facades of some buildings have fared.

Provincial HotelThis grand old pub has lost some of its cornice, parts of which have been lovingly stood up on the pavement below. Perhaps they didn’t fall but were removed by the crane just out of shot to the right, as these workers are doing to the cornice on a church:
dismantling a cornice from a crane.JPG

Unknown building.JPG
I don’t know what this building is – perhaps someone can enlighten me in the comments. UPDATE: It’s St Paul’s Trinity Pacific Presbyterian Church. Crack and bracingYou can see the damage it has sustained. The stone and plaster work is cracked right through and bracing rods have been strapped to it.

Oxford Terrace Baptist ChurchThis is Oxford Terrace Baptist Church with its classical pillared entrance. It has been badly damaged and is red-stickered.

detail of oxford terrace baptist.Here’s a zoomed-in view of some of its facade.

In her 1970s environmental classic Big Yellow Taxi Joni Mitchell sings “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”. Christchurch has been allowing the demolition of heritage buildings for years – there’s a really ugly hole in Cathedral Square where the Tivoli Theatre was pulled down last year. I can only hope that, if one good thing for Christchurch’s heritage comes out of the earthquake, the Council wakes up and fights to preserve what remains.

posted by colin at 11:15 am  


  1. Thanks Colin – really interesting, and sad.

    Comment by Sara — 9 October 2010 @ 12:23 pm

  2. The church you mention is St Paul’s Trinity Pacific Presbyterian Church. The church was designed by S.C. Farr and built in 1877 [1]

    I think they received a heritage grant from the CCC last year – hope this helped (or helps) to keep it there.


    Comment by Rob — 9 October 2010 @ 1:02 pm

  3. Nice commentary. I believe the building you couldn’t identify is St Paul’s Trinity Pacific Church. I find the damage to Oxford Terrace Baptist particularly sad, as it is such a stand-out landmark in it’s prominent riverside spot – I love heritage buildings and it will be strange to see many of them missing from the cityscape in years to come.

    My family in Christchurch didn’t give us in Wellington a second thought, I have to say! ;-)

    Comment by Rosa — 9 October 2010 @ 1:02 pm

  4. Rosa and Rob – thanks for this information. It looked to be a large and ornate church but possibly unused.

    I’ve since the Googled the Latin motto under the burning bush over the entrance of the building and discovered it’s used by the Church of Scotland – i.e. the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand.

    Comment by colin — 9 October 2010 @ 1:59 pm

  5. This church was actually used. I used to attend it along with 100 or so other people. It is saddening to see the damage the quake has caused. It holds so many memories for me. My friends got Baptized there and my other friend had her beautiful wedding there.

    Comment by Amy — 22 November 2010 @ 12:27 pm

  6. St Paul’s Trinity Pacific Presbyterian Church was damaged by an arson attack earlier in the year and was undergoing renovations which is why it has an unused look about it. The congregation have been holding their services in the adjacent church hall.

    Oxford Terrace Baptist Church has the obvious damage to the front of the building, but appeared to have only minor damage internally initially, with some cracks to the walls and some plaster down. The pipes of the organ were removed safely 9 days after the Sept 4th quake and are in storage. Unfortunately further damage to the building was sustained in the Boxing Day aftershocks, with fresh plaster falls and fresh cracking of the walls. Also those cracks on the facade are steadily getting bigger and bigger despite the shoring in place.

    Manchester Court building is almost fully demolished now.

    The picture taken at the corner of Tuam St & Madras St (the one with the shipping containers) shows the “Southern Blues Bar”. That building has since been demolished, the others remain.

    Comment by David — 28 December 2010 @ 9:58 am

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