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Activating the edges

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With the cluster of buildings surrounding the Square – each aligned with enjoyment and gathering – this is a space to watch!

As you all know, I am a passionate advocator for the Town Hall restoration. Viewing photos of the work being completed inspired my thinking about that area of Christchurch and the extensive development being undertaken, and about to start.

The grid layout of our inner city streets is an important aspect of our history and one that we need to retain and embrace. As a combined area, it is the largest open space we have in the city and it is potted with pockets of spaces that boast long-term heritage value. Spaces that we need to protect and enhance, such as Victoria Square.

The concept of gathering dates back beyond colonization and if we put aside the absence of cultural sensitivity of our forebears in the colonizing of our cityscape, it is possible to see and understand the cultural importance of places built on this ideal.

Conceived as a market place, Victoria Square pays homage to this while still remaining an active space today. There are very few locations that have continued to be occupied in the same way for quite as long. It is a place where people meet, interact and can occupy.

Architecturally, Victoria Square and the surrounds can be viewed as a cornerstone of our built environment. It has, I believe, the best examples of late modernist architecture in one cluster, while paying respect to our architectural history with the Magistrate Court: the oldest purpose built court building in Christchurch. While the Court has been added to and extended, it forms a cluster of buildings that offer insight into our architectural journey.

And now we are seeing a new stage added to this, with the edges of Victoria Square responding to a post-quake Christchurch.

Having purchased the Durham Street law courts, Science Alive! is set to adapt, re-purpose and re-strengthen the Court buildings, bringing a new energy to the area. Looking to preserve and protect the buildings on site, while repurposing them for long-term use, this development will see a sympathetic use of buildings set to enhance Victoria Square’s historical value of gathering.

Further around the edge of the Square is the Convention Centre site, the future of which finally has some light at the end of the tunnel. While this will be a more commercially sensible structure than earlier proposals, it will activate and enliven the south edge.

Then there is The Piano. Located on Armagh Street, the performing arts venue and subsequent arts precinct, is evolving between buildings, closing the gaps of empty land as this area becomes more active.

Running through the heart of Victoria Square, and our city, is the Avon River. Weaving its way through the city it has long held cultural significance. Drawing on its importance in this part of the city, Ōtākaro has made the move to create a premium public space.

Located on the site of the historic Oxford on Avon public house, the Oxford on Avon Pavilion is designed to draw visitors in as they interact and pass through the Square. Having announced a pitch to occupy, it won’t be long until this corner is also alive once again.

My only concern is that we didn’t embrace the opportunity to redevelop the Square itself. While work has been undertaken to restore the surfaces and built structures from the 1989 remodel, we had an opportunity to create; to draw on the grid of central city and the diagonals which interrupt it. While we have embraced the opportunity to activate the edges, I believe we have ignored its position as a gateway to the city. And its location within the grid.

Yet regardless of this, Victoria Square will continue its journey as both a historical and cultural anchor of Christchurch.

While it will take time, it is set to be turned from an open space of wasteland, into an active area enhanced by the buildings around it. With the cluster of buildings surrounding the Square – each aligned with enjoyment and gathering – this is a space to watch!

Published in Metropol Magazine

Published on Thursday, September 8th, 2016