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The space in between

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Having recently returned from Italy and the Venice Architectural Biennale, Architect Cymon Allfrey is questioning whether we need to be thinking outside of the box when it comes to our urban spaces. 

Offering an international platform on which to experience architecture as a built environment, the La Biennale di Venzia, or the Venice Biennale, is a forum of education and inspiration. For my colleague, and I, it was a forum which added a third dimension to the glossy pictures, web-based seminars and articles that we typically refer to.

The curated exhibition is comprised of over a hundred participants, one third of which are countries and two-thirds are invited architectural practices, from all around the world – invited to present their work and theories in a curated manner.

While we spent two days at the Biennale, and failed to see it all, there was one exhibition that I found particularly interesting when thinking about Christchurch, and the rebuild of our city.

For international practice, Grafton, their exhibition presented their work in civic spaces in Peru and the underlying concept of understanding how we can best inhabit the left over spaces – the gaps between buildings.

They believed that ‘the spaces in between are a luxury that cold countries can’t afford’.

Reflecting on this concept in the laneways and wide piazzas of Italy, it is immediately apparent that these are comfortable spaces to be in. They are activated and bought to life by the sheer number of people who occupy them, and importantly, the climate.

So, can we in Christchurch, afford the places in-between? Does our climate offer the opportunity to capitalise on, and utilise them? While we are not a cold country like those in the Baltic region with harsh winters, neither are we are a hot place like Dubai. Ultimately, we are far from the Mediterranean environment that offers innovative utilisation of these outdoor spaces.

The suburban mall is one example of how we have adapted for our climate. It is the 21st century high street. We occupy this space in the same way as a high-end shopping street in Florence. However it lacks the character and ambience that you would find in its outdoor equivalent. There are not many opportunities in which to sit back, soak in the atmosphere and relax with a chianti in the Mall.

Consider the laneways being established in the South Frame. This is a great opportunity and a wonderful way in which to direct people through the city, but are we forcing an engagement with these external spaces in order to achieve a utopian approach to rebuilding the city? If you close your eyes, you can visualise how the laneways, the spaces in between, may feel: the sun shining, a light northwest breeze, friends and a relaxing atmosphere.

But, while the friends and a sense of atmosphere will remain, the reality of Christchurch is that even in the height of summer, we can have four seasons in one day and a howling easterly. Just perhaps, we are trying to create something that is not fully informed by the local environment and setting. Making success that much harder as a result.

Although, perhaps I will be surprised and Christchurch will prove Grafton wrong: that space in between is a luxury that cold countries can afford. I for one will be watching with interest.

Published in Metropol Magazine

Published on Thursday, October 6th, 2016