Canterbury Earthquake Memorial

Christchurch, New Zealand

winning competition entry, 2015


The Canterbury Earthquake Memorial will provide a place to reflect on the events that changed Canterbury forever, paying respect to the 185 people who lost their lives on 22 February 2011. It will acknowledge the shared trauma and huge support received with the recovery operation that followed.

Nacionalni spomenik bo nudil prostor razmišljanju o dogodkih, ki so za vedno spremenili Canterbury, v spoštovanje 185 ljudi, ki so izgubili življenje v potresu 22. februarja leta 2011. Upošteval bo skupno izkušnjo in veliko prejeto podporo z reševalnimo akcijo, ki je sledila.

Christchurch, known as the Garden City for its vast green space, mix of exotic and native planting and priority for public spaces within the city centre, making the chosen location for the memorial along the Avon/Otakaro River that cuts through the city all the more appropriate. The river offers a long, meandering and well used pedestrian pathway that connects users to the memorial site and beyond. Downstream is the Bridge of Remembrance. As part of the development of Te Papa Ōtākaro/Avon River Precinct, Oxford Terrace will be reduced in scale and become a shared street where pedestrians have priority and will connect a place to the city centre. The opposite, north river bank is relatively flat, large and open.

As the river makes a turn toward the Botanic Gardens, there is a large riparian area used for passive recreation and as an active thoroughfare framed by the street. This is a beautiful place with old trees that runs along Cambridge Terrace. From this point the view south is influenced by a variety of commercial buildings that form the façade of Oxford Terrace.

The south bank is sunny and sheltered but is steep and narrow with a few young and old trees that overall looks unresolved as a street edge. It has an amphitheatre form with views up and downstream.

By placing the memorial on the south bank we improve both sides. It does not interrupt the recreational pathway along the river on a north bank. Memorial is enrichment for the new and unformed promenade on Oxford Terrace. There it is well integrated in the city fabric, accessible to the city and can take advantage of shared promenade place during public gatherings. Memorial offers sunny sheltered space close to water with a view on a park. The river curve provides safety and support. Long outer river bank allows everybody to have equal intimate place by the river facing the park and the sun. Here is a place that can be enjoyed in peace.

With the analysis of these location factors and the existing plans to develop Oxford Terrace into a promenade, the decision to look at the memorial as a linear object rather than a traditional gathering point was made. This was achieved by leaving the street level to its existing scheme and cutting into the earth altering the level of the south bank to match and reflect that of the north prompting a platform offering adequate space for reflection and relaxation in a sheltered and peaceful environment. The Memorial Wall is introduced to hold the mass of the earth and protect the memorial space. The design also provides a connection closer to the water, symbolic of life and its infinite nature. This leaves the north bank unchanged but enhanced as an informal gathering and viewing space toward the memorial as an element of intrigue. The intact north bank can still function as a thoroughfare and place for recreation.

The wall as the focus of the memorial space is designed to be symbolic of both heavy and strong but light and delicate in form. The heaviness of the wall, emphasised by the cut into the earth and the retaining of the bank along Oxford Terrace represents the balance of forces acting between man and nature, much like the marble itself formed by the immense pressure and heat of the metamorphism similar to the forces of an earthquake. The wall contrasts this by evoking the sense of light and delicate through design and materiality.

Walking along the river flow the wall starts with a staircase. The staircase breaks with our level ground and throws us down to a different level. At this point the change of direction also starts. The wall curves. At the bottom the names of those whose lives were lost in the earthquake appear chiselled in polished stone wall, memorialising them in time for families and future generations to comprehend the loss of this tragedy. The curved wall provides safe protected place that offers an area to mourn and reflect along the river. Although this place is one of sadness it is also a place of beauty, graced by the gentle river flow, full sun and the delicate shadows cast by trees, the space is also a celebration of life. The polished wall with sky and sun reflections is dematerialised representing eternity with names on it.  Wall offers long walk by the river accompanied with trees and benches to sit, contemplate and reflect. Ahead the Wall has a straight line, which begins to rise slowly. Because of perspective it looks that it will never end. We are walking slowly, rising on the ramp back to the city.

On the Oxford side of the Memorial Wall facade details from demolished heritage buildings that were damaged in the earthquakes create a place to remember the city as it was. At the area of a staircase and a ramp there are chiselled in stone wall organisations and individuals thanked for their involvement in the rescue and recovery effort and also those seriously injured.

Additional information can be found here.