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A Reassuring Rebuild: The Freiburg Parallel

Written By: - Date published: 11:00 am, March 1st, 2011 - 26 comments
Categories: culture, heritage - Tags:

In planning its rebuilding, we need to remember that Christchurch has long been the nerve centre of New Zealand’s tourism industry.

And I would suggest that it is so, not only because of its location in the scenic South Island, but also because its cosy Old World appearance, complete with tram, seems reassuring to European and Asian tourists far from home and about to embark on a slightly scary wilderness adventure.

This makes it a natural base, in the manner of the Chateau Tongariro and the Rotorua Bath House. And this quality of reassuring solidity, of cosiness, is simply going to become all the more important after the quake.

Christchurch needs to be rebuilt in a style that retains or even amplifies as much of its formerly cosy, reassuring character as possible, for the sake of the tourism industry. Not necessarily as a ‘museum city’, but in the same spirit.

If Christchurch is rebuilt in a bland, alienating American corporate style, resembling Albany, let’s say (the nerve centre of the Hollow Men) then it will lose this quality of reassurance.

I think we can then say goodbye to a certain proportion of our tourist industry if that happens. The combination of negative publicity about the earthquakes, spooky wilderness and an uninviting future Christchurch will scare them away.

A ‘reassuring rebuild’ needs to be done for the well-being of the people of Christchurch, as well. For the people of Christchurch need a city that will soothe and reassure them in the future.

And even more than that, we need to do so because Christchurch is of cultural importance.

The Anglo-German architectural guru Nikolaus Pevsner once called Chstchurch and Dunedin both “examples … in some ways, of Victorian planning at its most remarkable.” (‘The ingratiating chaos’, Listener (UK) 20 November 1958). We can’t simply throw that away.

It is the city of Rutherford, among other noteworthies.

There is a close parallel to what needs to be done, in the history of a German town called Freiburg-im-Breisgau, gateway to the touristy Black Forest.

Not just a tourism gateway, Freiburg was also once the home of cartographer Martin Waldseemüller, who coined the term ‘America’. Erasmus lived there, as did Edith Stein.

Unfortunately all this was, literally, history after a couple of nights in World War II.

Many other German cities were modernised in the course of rebuilding. But, perhaps because of its cultural and tourism importance, Freiburg was rebuilt in a deliberately old-fashioned and eccentric style. Nearly everything you see today is a post-1945 reconstruction.

Christchurch, I would argue, needs to be thought of as the Freiburg-im-Breisgau of New Zealand in the forthcoming reconstruction. We can’t risk an Albany. It has to be like the pre-quake city, only better.

Food for thought. Though I fear that those who need to think these thoughts, won’t.

– ChrisH

26 comments on “A Reassuring Rebuild: The Freiburg Parallel”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    Interview with Jim Anderton and Garry Moore (previous Mayor) on National Radio this morning. Jim Anderton was proposing the city be rebuilt using wood, which can allow for buildings up to 6 stories high. It would keep it from being a tilt-slab nightmare, as well as help reduce costs and support a New Zealand industry.

    He also suggested that Roger Sutton from Orion be appointed as a chairperson in charge of a committee for rebuilding CHCH, as he has certainly shown his capability in this area.

  2. swordfish 2

    Freiburg’s also just about the only city in southern Germany that consistently votes Social Democrat – a little spot of red in a sea of deep, deep blue.

    I tend to agree with your general argument, Chris H (which contrasts quite starkly with other media / blogosphere arguments on this topic).

  3. weka 3

    Any discussion about the Chch rebuild and tourism has to be done within the context of peak oil and climate change. What makes us think that the mass/crass tourism industry we are currently chasing is going to survive peak oil and climate change?

    I also think that much of the tourism industry in the SI can bypass Chch if it has to. Sorry, but as long as there is an airport and land inland to build hotels on, Chch isn’t quite so essential.

    The heritage/cultural issues are much more important, and if combined with sustainability design could provide not only a city that works well for its inhabitants, but also attracts what’s left of the tourism industry.

    I’d much rather see our future staked on sustainability design rather than a tourism industry that will most not likely survive in its present form.

  4. Kevin Welsh 4

    Seems like Gerry the Hutt has already made up his mind on the future architectural direction of Christchurch.

    Can’t have those old ‘dungers’ getting in the way of bland concrete and glass.

    • weka 4.1

      “Old stuff, if it’s got any damage at all, needs to be got down and got out, because it’s dangerous and we don’t need it.” Brownlee

      Is he a structural engineer? A building inspector?

      I would have thought the issue was did some of the historic/iconic buildings that were refused demolition consent last time kill people this time?

      • kriswgtn 4.1.1

        Hell No he is a ex woodwork teacher and will show us how its done

        hahha this anti spam word is hawt as—INABILITYS

        rather sums Da Hutt to a T

    • Zorr 4.2

      I would be very careful to keep a watch on this one. With all the buildings being pulled down it is going to free up a lot of empty land for reinvestment. Those that have lost their business or property won’t necessarily be well reimbursed and it will open the market up again for the likes of Dave Henderson.

      Add in to this the fact that Brownlee is Commander and Chief in Christchurch, it will inevitably lead to poor “decisions” (read here, corruption).

  5. Bored 5

    There is absolutely no reason why Christchurch cannot be reconstructed in a manner that is sympathetic to that which has gone. Facades can be mimicked easily.

    The real opportunity that this disaster has presented should not be allowed to be wasted. What is required is a long term understanding of, and an agreement upon what the centre of the city is to be. We have reached the end of the age of cheap energy, and massed distribution systems that have given rise to the strip mall. Further the profligate use of steel glass and concrete which was energy “cheap” is at a tipping point where it will become energy “expensive”.

    To anticipate the trend and build to match, with visual reference to the past will make Christchurch a model example of a city that encompasses past present and future. No “Albanys” can ever do this; the people of Christchurch need this to be a spiritual lift. Build it and the people will come.

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      Steel, glass and concrete are still cheap now.

      They are materials which should be used extensively in the rebuild, but in ways which will last easily and be easily maintained for the next 250 years.

      However, the rebuild certainly needs to take into account minimising future operating/maintenance costs in a peak oil environment.

      Basically any NZ infrastructure which we need to upgrade and maintain now e.g. our rail, should be done before escalating peak oil costs make it unaffordable. And be done in a way which will last.

      At the unaffordable stage all we will have will be our existing infrastructure assets to gradually use and run down over time.

      • neoleftie 5.1.1

        CV – that would be the 21st century building plan that our good man bob parker is talking about.

      • Bored 5.1.2

        CV, light steel frames and wood will not entomb people on the next big shake, and they can easily last 200 years. I go past the Old Parliament buildings every day, probably 140 years old (dunno) and look great. Steel and concrete and glass, forget it.

        On the rail infrastructure etc I totally agree with you.

    • Kevin Welsh 5.2

      Exactly Bored. You do not have to look very far on Google to find examples of old buildings given a 21st Century makeover. My personal belief is that come hell or high water, there is no way the present government is going to make changes to tax rates or cancel other pet projects to free up capital that will enable a rebuild in Canterbury that will have a direct reference to the past.

      Good bye Press building, old university etc. Hello concrete and glass. Its a tragedy of a different kind that will turn Christchurch into “just another city”. All the charm and appeal that I love about the place will be gone and an opportunity wasted forever.

  6. wild.colonial.boy 6

    Yeah. Let’s see you build a big brick or stone house in the swamp Christchurch was built in – and wait for the next big one. That is the simple – and fundamental – point. You would be better off using laminated timber in a more geologically stable location. It is that sort of fuzzy sentimentality which destroys lives and gets people killed.

    • neoleftie 6.1

      most coastal cities the world over are built on swamps.
      What is needed is a reassessment of building standards. Take the chch art gallery as an example of a very modern building designed to minimise risk or damage.
      The entire CBD area is now a blank canvas.

      • Bored 6.1.1

        Neo, your blank canvas comment is entirely appropriate and is at the core of the opportunity. Things will change quickly during the next 20 years and it would be great to see the old city transform into the future city. One of the things that steel and glass cannot do easily is be transformed fit for changing circumstance, and circumstances are changing.

        At the same time preserving the character of the old town should be a primary concern, I grew up with it and the best bits need to be restored for future enjoyment by those who have yet to be born. It would give them a sense of place and belonging in a way soulless glass boxes never could.

        • pollywog 6.1.1.1

          Blank canvas eh ?

          Instead of waiting around for inner city buildings to come down and rebuilding in the same spot. How about start building a new planned and architecturally cohesive CBD in Hagley park from scratch, then turn most of the current CBD into a park and move the university into the rest of it ?

          Revitalise the inner city with students and student housing. While giving the new CBD easier access to rail via Addington and the airport via Memorial ave. Build more residential sub divisions out Halswell way and link it all up with an overhead monorail that extends all the way to Brighton then to Sumner, along the Port Hills to Hillsborough following the foothills of Cashmere and straight down Colombo to Moorhouse ave and back to the new CBD.

          Then for old times sake, in designing the street access of a new CBD, allow for a motor racing circuit replete with concert/sporting/trade fair arena and easy viewing for the public.

          Finally name it after John Britten…Brittendon.

  7. Rich 7

    As someone who first came to NZ as a tourist, can I point something out: tourists don’t come to NZ for the cities. We may have come to love them, but there are hundreds of more interesting, historic and even “cozy” cities before one treks all the way to NZ.

    People visit NZ for the rural beauty, adventure and sporting activities. The cities are just logistical stopovers.

    If we rebuilt Christchurch after the model of Basingstoke, I doubt it would make any difference to overall tourist numbers.

    • Rosy 7.1

      I agree. This seems to be something that tourism ‘specialists’ don’t get – people don’t come th NZ for the cities. However, a resident might want to have a bit of pride in saying they live in Christchurch – I don’t think Basingstoke residents have that 😉

      I also think they should abandon the square. The regeneration that has been going on down the road Gloucester Street? (where the art gallery is) is so much better than they grey desert that was in the middle. When I was living there in the ’80s they decided on the revitalisation of the square – to pave it it grey and not take out the road. That decision to 15 years!! There’s way too much politics tied up in the idea of the square and who it is for, so in the end it’s for no-one – where nobody lives and no residents go. Time to build for the residents and the tourists will still come, as long as it remains the gateway to where they really want to go.

    • prism 7.2

      There are interesting future designs with different energy approaches that get mentioned in the media – like buildings that have hanging gardens on the outside walls utilising sunlight and also green roofs with plantings that moderate seasonal effects. I wonder if there can be some input at that level as our iconic approach for the 21st century.

      • prism 7.2.1

        Further on that thought around Christchurch being a garden city! It would fit in with the theme and be future oriented as well. The Hanging Gardens of Christchurch on the outside of buildings would be a feature people would come to see, not every visitor is just using the airport as a jumping-off place to get to wild-eyed adventure sports.

  8. Drakula 8

    I first came to Christchurch in 1976 and one of the reasons I settled there was it’s charm; it’s old worldly charm.

    Although I don’t live there now but in the ninties I had a studio in the Arts Center, in the Old Chemistry (probably stuffed) and that part of the city was very rich in culture, science and history.

    The Arts Center was the old university that not only groomed Rutherford but also cultivated the likes of Baxter for a while; Not to mention Ngao Marsh and the painter Bill Sutton.

    You just can’t replace that with tarr and cement and I am afraid that people like Brownlee and co will only know the price of everything and the value of nothing!!!!!

  9. jingyang 9

    An excellent idea. Other parallels to Freiburg are the reconstructions of historic Warsaw and Krakow aftre WWII. The Japanese too, in an equally earthquake prone country as NZ have also reconstructed many of their historic buildings, some of them several times…
    There is ample precedent for a rebuild of central Christchurch that could keep its mostly 19C character but use 21st century technology and building standards. As other posters have commented, the arrival of peak oil means this could the last hurrah of modern infrastructure spending, best NZ makes a good job of it then.

  10. Oncelivedthere 10

    Christchurch was munted years ago by allowing large malls to surround the city so that National’s mates could grab both the rent and a share of the retail profits in the bland and hideous boxes they produced. That is Brownlies idea of the future. A city without character or a centre

  11. radar 11

    Portsmouth is a good example of a city flattened and re-built in a short period of time without the slightest amount of imagination applied to the task or any sense of its former history (such as is now most likely for Chch given the quality of the decision-makers in charge). While Freiburg is sort-of a replica of its former self (along many other re-constructed Euro-cities), it has charm and visual character in bucketloads. I think Napier is a better example than Freiburg, showing how a city can be reinvented without falling back on the way it was previously and with considerable architectural and visual quality, and as it goes is a wondrous local precedent.

    However, unless the higher-ups take interest, and soon, these vital qualities will certainly be entirely absent from the sort of cheap-as-chips rapid-fire development in the bland-architectural-idiom-of-the-day that will prevail if the market is left to its own devices; in the current circumstances a re-built Christchurch has every possibility of becoming the dullest city in the country, if not in the whole of Australasia – Portsmouth of the South Seas…

    (Sorry to anyone who actually likes Portsmouth)

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