After a phone call, personal interview, photograph and a two-hour pass card issue, we proceeded to the nearest army checkpoint for entry into the former CBD. Reality quickly hit home as we drove straight to the site of the wrecked Christchurch Cathedral.
Seeing pigeons flying through the collapsed roofs and walls was suddenly sobering and emotional. The mood didn’t improve as we drove around and attempted to comprehend the absolute scale of the widespread devastation.
Christchurch and Wellington are approximately the same size — can you imagine 70% of Wellington’s high-rise CBD having to be demolished then ultimately rebuilt? This is Christchurch’s reality.
I had previously seen the city-wide residential destruction, but seeing an array of multi-storey buildings being systematically and clinically dismantled by crane and large scale breaker was awe inspiring. This is, after all, New Zealand’s most destructive event.
There appears a noticeable and impressive calm, and careful professionalism about the deconstruction that emphasises the high levels that this new discipline in the New Zealand construction industry’s skill set is achieving.
It is remarkable what is being accomplished. It is obviously an extremely hazardous operation, and the fact that up to the time of our visit there had not been a single serious injury reveals the high levels of safety and care taken.
Everywhere concrete is being recycled through large crushers with the resulting chip filling the old foundations and basements.
The surplus then piles up in small mountains over former roads and sites until the whole scene resembles a massive quarry, with a few high-rise buildings dotted throughout awaiting their inevitable fate.
After hearing about building after building that will have to be demolished, it was an absolute delight to hear about a two-storey historic stone building on the perimeter of the square that will remain.
Unfortunately, most of Christchurch’s heritage buildings are now just a memory.
The upside of this sad state of affairs is that the city now has a unique opportunity to build a sensational new CBD.
There seems to be universal enthusiasm to embrace the proposed planning scheme to create an efficient, up-to-the-minute design that will allow Christchurch citizens to interact in an amazing inner-city environment.
So what remains of New Zealand’s heritage buildings now? Dunedin surely has the mantle as our premier heritage city.
There are so many amazing stone buildings built on the profits from the nearby gold fields in the 1800s, with the Scottish pioneers investing well in education, commerce and buildings.
There are so many examples of first-class heritage architecture that remain in impeccable condition today, the railway station being a prime example.
I always enjoy visiting Dunedin for the buildings and also the warm hospitality, so it is exciting that Dunedin will be hosting our national conference in July next year.
I know Otago RMBA president Mark Ward and his executive are planning a truly warm southern welcome for all attendees.
To those of you who haven’t attended an RMBF national conference, I would urge you to do so! Instead of spending a normal weekend at home, come to the conference and spend some time elevating your business thinking and meeting your fellow RMBs.
It is a unique opportunity to learn by mixing with like-minded people who are only too willing to share experience and advice in a friendly and social environment.
Personally, I always gain several new ideas and opportunities that I use profitably in my own business.
The real key, I think, is that you can talk candidly with other builders from outside your region with no competitive restraint on sharing experiences, solutions and ideas.
It is still more than six months away, but I urge you to really consider and plan now to attend the conference in what is one of the most interesting parts of New Zealand.