Following the devastating 2011 earthquake in Christchurch shipping containers were used to create a makeshift shopping mall, it proved to be a great success
27 shops made up the bulk of the colourful mall which was part of the Christchurch City Mall Re:START project. There were thousands of visitors attending mall’s opening, which was a great morale boost for the retailers.
Café’s and shops surrounded a large pedestrian area made up with a U-shaped pavilion. It wasn’t all plain sailing however, the project was met with some criticism from a for a breach of intellectual property rights.
The shipping container shopping mall was the most striking of many temporary developments in the city as it tried to bounce back following the loss of 185 lives and much of its infrastructure. Development time was quickly turned around in only a matter of months while managing to maintain a level of elegance and care in the design process.
Well before the reconstruction process began in Christchurch, temporary converted shipping container buildings popped up all over the city. They ranged from a furniture shop, a shoe shop, a dairy, a greengrocer, a number of boutique dress shops, a lingerie boutique, an bookshop, an art gallery, bars and cafes. The city centre shopping area was almost all converted shipping containers following the earthquake.
When Anton Tritt was appointed head of design for Re:START, he’s just finished designing a similar container development in the Port Hills. The eventually opened in the October of 2011. Approximately 60 shipping containers were stacked in various layouts and painted in a bright colours.
The containers provided an obvious solution to the problem of building a temporary shopping precinct in an earthquake zone. Victorian and Edwardian commercial buildings were demolished to allow the development on the site of the old Cashel Street pedestrian mall.
Re:START includes – the kind of shops, in fact, that used to populate the buildings in the historic part of town (the part of the city worst hit during the earthquakes, when ornate concrete pediments and brick facades collapsed over the street).
The biggest constraint on Re:START was time. They only had an eight-week building period for the shops and public areas. This included power, drainage and other essential services which had all been damaged in the earthquake.
Anton Tritt says:
It could not have been done without the goodwill of everyone involved.” Volunteers from out of town grew plants for hanging baskets, and others assisted landscape architects Rough and Milne with planting. Access was a problem, again solved by goodwill and good communication. They were building in a live disaster zone, behind a cordon manned by the New Zealand army. When the precinct opened to the public, it was a symbolic reclamation of the city by its residents.
The container mall opened with plans to trade for six months but it stayed and grew. It was hailed as a must-see by international travel guides including Lonely Planet. Fast forward over six years after Re:START in Christchurch opened, several reprieves, the central container mall has now sadly closed and stallholders and retailers are hoping to restart elsewhere. The closure will make way for the construction of the new Riverside farmers market and shops.
Recycled wood craftsman Mark Billington said:
This is the end of an era and it’s sad for Christchurch. Now the city will lose this vibey, funky sort of area. It kind of needs another one, it was “hard to know where we will end up, but we will stick together.
Some stallholders were moving next to Little High Eatery, while others were going to High St, Peterborough St or Addington.
Architect: The Buchan Group
Photography: by Murray Hedwig and John Suckling.
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