A much loved green space is back in business in post-quake Christchurch
One of the best-loved spaces in Christchurch city centre is open to the public again, and in a landscape that still bears significant scars, it once again welcomes locals and visitors with its soft, green and familiar character.
At first, Victoria Square appeared to have survived the earthquakes relatively unscathed in comparison to the surrounding destruction. However, on closer inspection it was apparent that the square and its surrounds required significant work above and below ground to enable it to continue to be a prized asset in the city’s new future.
A comprehensive community engagement process identified its beloved qualities, as well as aspects which should be addressed through the design process. Feedback clearly showed that Victoria Square was a place close to many hearts, particularly as a tranquil green space with aspect and access to the Avon Ōtākaro River.
Heritage features are a key part of the square, and people supported their protection, and in the case of the Bowker fountain, a full restoration. “Public consultation and community feedback provided clear direction to us as the designers,” says design lead Nik Kneale, of Boffa Miskell’s Christchurch office. “The community said ‘Actually, we like it and we want it back the way it was. This was a solid base on which to start the design process.”
Christchurch has for the longest time identified itself as an English city; ‘the most English city outside of England’. Describing itself in this way came at the expense of its rich natural and cultural history, and had the unintentional effect of excluding significant groups within the community.
It was heartening then, to see strong public feedback asking that design work provide a greater recognition of the shared cultural history which is the backbone to our community; all but invisible in the square previously.
What had been hidden from view was the significant mahinga kai resource which surrounded Pūari Pa, a seasonal settlement in this location, and the square’s significance as a pivotal site for the building of relationships between Crown and Ngai Tuahuriri as tangata whenua.
Formerly known as Market Place, this site was the place of early interaction and trade, going on to become the centre of what would become Christchurch City.
The design was developed in a collaborative and iterative manner with Ōtākaro, Matapopore and Christchurch City Council, representing Crown, Iwi and community respectively; with a specially formed Community Reference Group providing guidance throughout the design process.
New artworks from Ngāi Tahu artists and motifs woven throughout the square reflect its pre-Colonial past and significance to Iwi – but the most recognisable features, including the two statues, remain as they were; and the 87-year-old Bowker Fountain, Australasia’s first illuminated electric fountain, has been repaired and restored.
The 6-metre-high poupou, which was carved from tōtara by Riki Manuel for the 1990 commemorations of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi has been restored, with subtle changes to its setting greatly improving its presence and accessibility.
Illustrations by artist Jennifer Rendall, representing mahinga kai and exotic species brought by early immigrants, have been sand-blasted into a 40m-long basalt wall, and a large concrete and brass table with a depiction of a kanakana (lamprey) on the top has also been placed by the Avon River, across from Town Hall, in recognition of the area’s history as a traditional food gathering place and to encourage the sharing of food in the square once again.
Three whāriki (woven mats of welcome) by artists/weavers Morehu Flutey-Henare and Reihana Parata have been placed in the square. They are part of a series of 13 to be placed along the city's river precinct.
About 17,500 new plants have been added to the square and about 170,000 new pavers laid. Existing pavers suitable for reuse have been palletized and are awaiting installation by volunteers in an adjacent temporary space. These elements follow the general layout of the existing design, so to the casual observer it will feel as though things have been brought back to the way they were before 2010.
For many walking through the city centre, the aural and visual din of construction and the emotional impact of the shattered Cathedral creates a sense of disorientation. Now, within that chaos, an oasis of calm and a tie to the past has been restored.
“The final outcome is delivering what the people of Christchurch have asked for,” says Nik Kneale. “And as a lifelong member of this community there’s a huge sense of pride in being able to deliver that.”