Quake Cities

The old hall, post-quake.

It’s September 4. The daffodils are in full bloom, and I feel compelled to talk about earthquakes.

Eight years on from our M7.1 quake, the local hall is finally under re-construction. Its brick walls cracked and bowed in the quake, and it spent several years propped up by timber, then was razed completely. The site sat empty until about two months ago, when the walls began to rise again.

It’s a common refrain here. The damage done by the M7.1 on 4 September 2010 and the M6.3 on 22 February 2011, and the 15,000 or so lesser quakes in between and after is still visible. In the city, the Christchurch Cathedral still sits behind ‘temporary’ security fencing, it’s face crumbled away, weeds growing along the tops of jagged walls. A block of High Street remains closed, broken buildings frozen as they were when the shaking stopped. Throughout the region, churches remain truncated, their spires still gone. One church is still operating from a large tent. Houses are still undergoing repairs, and bare sections abound.

On a recent visit to Wellington, my son commented that Wellington seemed like such an older city than Christchurch, though they are nearly the same age. But Wellington hasn’t had a big quake since 1855. In that 1855 quake, many buildings were destroyed, and after that, most homes were rebuilt using timber, in the Victorian style popular at the time. Those Victorian houses give many Wellington neighbourhoods the quaint atmosphere they have, even today.

In Napier, the city-defining quake struck in 1931. The rebuild of that city followed the art-deco style popular at the time. The city retains the art-deco character today, and has become a popular tourist destination for its architecture.

Christchurch’s look has been affected by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, just as Wellington and Napier have been. Brick and stone have been replaced by wood, steel and glass. The new Christchurch includes more art, more open space (though some of those open spaces are slated to be filled with new buildings … eventually). Perhaps some day, visitors to Christchurch will view it as a product of the architectural styles of the 2010s.

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