Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Christchurch earthquakes ~ photo journal of central Christchurch, 23rd July 2011

Photographs shown here were taken on the 23rd of July when I was briefly in Christchurch to spend time with family.  They were taken in an hour or so of wandering around a part of the central city open to the public, looking, looking, looking.  Many others do the same.  Looking, taking photographs.  So many photographs. 

Why do we gaze on and wish to record what has been so painful?  To witness it, to help our brains map the changes; to keep in touch with the changing reality of our city.  What massive changes there are, and so many more still to come.  

I wanted to look but didn't want to do so alone.  Moral support seemed necessary, as indeed it turned out to be.  My sister came with me.  We started our walk in Durham Street by the Provincial Council Chambers, a historic building of considerable renown.  Here is what is left of the Stone Hall:


We peered into the window of the abandoned cafe opposite:


A yellowing copy of a newspaper dated the 22nd February 2011, that fateful day, lay on the window counter where it had been left; crockery lay on the floor:


A milk crate complete with empty containers and a note for the milkman stood outside the door:


The next people on the premises are likely to be demolition men.

My mother's solicitor had her offices in this building, or was it the one next to it?  I remembered that we had been told that all legal documents were held in a disaster-proof strong room.  I wondered what happened to all those staff that momentous day, several floors up, their offices accessed by lift.  (See postscript below.)  They're working from a different office now, out of town.  I wondered if the strong room stood up to the force of the earthquakes; how long it was before staff were assisted to retrieve all the vital documents from it; and, and, and...  Retrieval of business records has been a major problem throughout the city. 

We walked on taking a backward glance at the Provincial Council Buildings:


Ah, the ever-present portaloos - and thank goodness for them!

We crossed Gloucester Street:

The city library from the intersection of Gloucester and Durham Streets

The city's central library lies trapped by the proximity of unsafe neighbouring buildings.  Heavy machinery for digging and grading lines the street on the right.  It was Saturday, so all work within the central city had ceased.  Numbers of other on-lookers were also about, doing as we were doing - looking... 

Across the Avon we could see this historic brick building enmeshed in scaffolding and bracing, waiting for restoration:


The hotel which stands close by looked at least superficially okay, until viewed more closely: boarding and barricades at street level close off entry:


Along with other on-lookers we come to Worcester Street and looked along it to see what we could of Cathedral Square and the Cathedral two blocks away:

Worcester St from the Avon bridge looking towards Cathedral Square

Standing at the fence pictured above I held my camera high above my head to get a clearer image of whatever was further along.  


The double row of fencing made it very clear that authorities were serious about keeping us out.  It's too dangerous.  However, it should be noted that the lean of the two high-rises pictured here is due to my wide angle lens, not a lean in the buildings themselves. 

From there we set off towards the Arts Centre, the site of the old university, which in the last couple of decades has become a centre for art and craft businesses, shops, cafes, the Court Theatre and a cinema.

These beautiful old stone buildings have been damaged badly, and a great deal of painstaking work has been done to make them safe and to buttress them while restoration is carried out:



Looking down Worcester Boulevard towards the Museum

The Arts Centre bell tower

The north corner of the Great Hall

Note the reinforcing rods.  This building, the Great Hall, is on the corner of Worcester Street and Rolleston Avenue. The disordered signpost in the right of the image should be disregarded!

Around the corner on Rolleston Avenue more of the Great Hall could be seen.  Note the missing turret:


The September earthquake dislodged the turret by an inch or two.  It had been carefully removed and placed in front of the neighbouring building.  If this had not been done then it would have fallen in the February quake and been destroyed.


Faced with all this damage and destruction it was a relief to see some buildings whole and handsome.

This brick building at the corner of Worcester and Montreal Streets is one of them:


Here again the apparent lean of the building at the right is due to the wide angle of the camera lens, not the building itself.

The façade of the City's new art gallery is a different case in point: it's many-angled complex glass frontage with its multiple panes of glass suffered no loss whatsoever.  Indeed, the only damage to the gallery that I've heard of is inside where a small number of ceiling tiles were dislodged. 


By this time we reached this point I was beginning to feel shattered, rather like this imagery reflected in the Art Gallery windows:

The imagery was largely a reflection of the remarkable artwork opposite:


The only reason the art gallery cannot re-open to the public is due to the neighbouring apartment blocks which are deemed to be unstable.  They are scheduled for demolition but no one knows when that will be.  You can see them behind it here.


We headed back to the car, but took one further excursion on the way: I wanted to visit the Durham Street Methodist Church where my dear optometrist, Paul Dunlop, died - to honour his memory, and also to see for myself.  This is what remained:


That beautiful door: not so many years ago our family paused in front of it to take group photographs after our sister's graduation ceremony, all smiling. 


Turning back on our tracks we passed the ornate brickwork of the old land court buildings which looked remarkably intact, as the law courts beyond them also seemed to be, not that anyone was allowed in either of them...


And we were back at the Provincial Council Chambers, seen here across the intersection of Durham and Armagh Streets:



Taking one last look at the crumbling remains of the Stone Hall we got back into the car:


Exhausted by the sheer scale of what we had seen we headed out to Sumner to be with family.

Had we been permitted to enter the closed-off central city we could have seen some of these sites filmed when Scribe was making this video as a tribute to the hard-hit city and its people.  It features his hit song "not many cities".


The video was sponsored by the BNZ which wanted to send a message of support.  Here is the video about the making of it:


Postscript regarding what happened to staff in the solicitors offices that day:
  • Law firm TaylorShaw happy to be back in the CBD - published in The Press, 30th Dec 2011.

All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen:

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