Illustration by Matt Chase
September 12, 2016

In 2010 and 2011, a series of earthquakes killed 185 and left the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island in disarray. More than 1,000 downtown buildings had to be demolished. Whole neighborhoods were abandoned.

Faced with such devastation, leaders decided not to simply re-create the city. Before the quakes, downtown was losing retail to the suburbs and had comparatively few residents. Even the mayor admitted that the city was on track to becoming a “sleepy hollow.”

Instead, Christchurch quickly made structures out of nontraditional materials, establishing it as an exciting destination for fast architecture. A damaged historic church was temporarily replaced by the six story A-frame Cardboard Cathedral, its nave enclosed by 86 half-ton cardboard tubes, designed by Pritzker Prize winner Shigeru Ban. From late 2012 to the spring of 2014, a Pallet Pavilion built of packing materials provided room for creative events. The Re:START complex houses international chains, local shops, and cafés in shipping crates.

In the long term, residents are getting a more sustainable and livable environment. Christchurch expects to attract 20,000 new residents to downtown, tripling the pre-earthquake population. Riverfront development will connect nature and the built environment. And landscaped plazas and cycling lanes are popping up everywhere. Though it will be rebuilding for many years, Christchurch is well on its way to a renaissance.

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