Remembrance on the Pacific Rim: The Canterbury Earthquake Memorial Dedication

Winning entry:
Graga Vezjek Architect (Image © Simon Baker)


Living on the Pacific Rim can be a risky business. In L2010, Christchurch, New Zealand suffered a devastating series of earthquakes, resulting in the virtual destruction of half of the city’s urban fabric in the downtown area, the destruction of 100,000 homes, and the deaths of 185 of its inhabitants.


When we first heard of this disaster, one of our concerns was the survival of the new Christchurch Art Gallery, a stunning modern structure, which was the result of a 1998 design competition won by the Buchan Group of Sydney.* Based on the success of that competition, and its strong support by the local populace, using a similar process to select a design for a memorial to commemorate the victims of this disaster would have seemed to be a logical strategy.


Christchurch Art Gallery by Buchan Group (Sydney, Australia)
Competition (1998)
Completion (2003)

The Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial competition was launched in 2011. Simultaneously, a bend in the Avon River in downtown Christchurch was selected as the optimal location for the memorial site. The call for entries attracted 330 design concepts from around the world. To ensure that the chosen design was selected solely on the quality of the idea, anonymenity was to be observed in the selection of the design. As guidelines, the memorial design was required to:


• Honor the 185 people who lost their lives, and the seriously injured
• Remember and give thanks to the organizations from New Zealand and the world that assisted in the rescue and recovery;
• Recognize the shared human experience of those involved in the earthquakes, the effects on the city and Canterbury including the loss of many treasured heritage buildings and everyday cityscape;
• Provide a space for formal civic events each year on 22 February;
• Allow for reflection and contemplation by small groups or individuals;
• Become the anchor point for remembering the impact of the earthquakes.



View across river during dedication day (Image © Simon Baker)



Evening view from north bank  (Image © Simon Baker)


An Evaluation Panel comprising two architects, two landscape architects, two arts professionals and a bereaved family member recommended a shortlist of six designs—two that were from New Zealand and four from overseas. After deliberations, which included input from stakeholders, the panel selected Slovenian Architect Grega Vezjek’s design as the winner. According to the jury, Vezjek’s design was chosen because it:


• Made best use of the sun and would not be shaded by buildings or trees
• Provided a journey, beginning with the memorial space, travelling along the walkway past the names of those who were lost, acknowledgments and memories, and then over the Montreal Street bridge to the north bank, where a simple space for sitting, reflecting, talking with each other and remembering would be created
• Is safe and provides an excellent space for commemorative events
•Provides a strong civic statement that is an evocative and powerful
• Is feasible to build within budget and does not create an adverse flood risk.



View from east at dusk  (Image © Simon Baker)


Evening view from west  (Image © Simon Baker)


Graga Vezjek, the author of the winning design, suggested that one of the major considerations, which led to his selection as the winner, was his decision to locate the memorial on the South Bank of the site. This was in contrast to the schemes of the other finalists, who all chose the North Bank as a location. According to Vezjek, the South Bank received the full effect of sunlight, whereas trees shaded the North Bank site.


Finally, in February of this year, the memorial was completed and dedication took place on February 22nd—the seventh anniversary of the earthquake.


* The Christchurch Art Gallery (below) survived the earthquake, but needed $37M of foundation work to stabilize the building and immunize it against future earthquake damage.



Competition Boards

by Graga Vezjek Architect
Bilje, Miren-Kostanjevica, Slovenia