Getting people back into the CBD
It was the noise - a rumbling that grew in intensity, followed by the groaning and creaking of a building stretched beyond its limits – that she remembers most from that day. That and the torrent of water that gushed from the kitchen of the 9th floor office she was meeting in – like, she recalls, a scene from Titanic.
“It started just like any other aftershock. We joked, we cleared out throats, we looked at one another nervously, and somehow without even talking, we ended up under the table together. Two lawyers, a creative director and a PR person. Like some sort of a bad light bulb joke.”
“I remember grabbing for the iphone of one of the guys we were meeting with - it was skittering across the floor at speed, like a pebble skimming the surface of water. Really fast, like somebody had hurled it at speed. The colleague I came to the meeting with was being thrown from wall to wall, he didn’t make it under the table in time. The shaking was unbelievably intense. I don’t remember being worried about whether the building would fall down or not. But knowing what I know now about what happened in other buildings that day - that’ll be the first thought to cross my mind if and when I ever venture back into a CBD high rise again. And I don’t think I’ll want to go into one without information about what it’s built in and how sound it really is.”
This woman is far from alone in her new-found concern about the structural integrity of any building she might find herself in the future, according to Bayleys Christchurch Commercial Sales Manager, Harry Van Tongeren.
“ ‘Build it, and they will come’ is no longer enough for Christchurch,” Van Tongeren says, “People will want solid evidence that they are safe in any regenerated CBD. Education is going to be key to providing the reassurance that people both want and need.”
A recent Bayleys' survey of companies displaced from their central city premises found more than 80% would eventually come back when the city was rebuilt. The majority of commercial tenants interviewed said first and foremost, they wanted buildings that provided safety.
“Most employers see their staff as family, so the main concerns coming out of the survey were driven by personal safety. Employers want buildings that their staff feel safe in, and buildings that provide them with the reassurance they should take their teams back in.”
Harry believes there is a host of educational issues around building safety that need to be raised and discussed.
“Safety is not a concept of low rise versus high rise – some larger buildings have handled the earthquakes well, just as some smaller buildings haven’t. People need to understand that safety is all about the physical structure – how the building is built, and what it’s built from dictates how it will stand up, it’s not about how many levels a building is.”
“We need to reassure people about safety working off valid information about physical attributes and design, and also look at the soil structure the buildings sit on, and the difficulties attributed to liquefaction. After what the region has been through over the last few months, it’s not enough for people to be told ‘It’s safe because it didn’t fall down in previous quakes’.”
He says this information needs to be conveyed to each person in a business returning to the CBD.
“Our survey showed that business owners wanted a good working environment when they returned to the central city, and you’re not going to have that unless the staff as a whole feel happy and confident to go back.”
In planning the rebuild, we need to look to technology and international experience, he says.
“Supply and demand will shape a rethink, people simply won’t go back into buildings with methodology that doesn’t feel good – they’ll steer clear of stone parapets, or heavy hung facades, so there’s no point building something using those products and techniques.
“Our historic past is so important, which needs to be kept front of mind, so while the city will be based on modern design, I don’t think anyone sees a shiny glass and concrete future for Christchurch.”
As a born and bred Cantabrian, Harry knows first-hand the region has been dealt a vicious blow.
“But if there is an upside, it’s that we have the opportunity to create a modern town plan, and get away from the negative aspects of the old central city. The new city needs to be founded around buildings that meet the public’s perception of acceptability, and meet the emotional needs of a population who have been through these extremely challenging few months.
“We can’t just go back to the way things were. We need to look to options like timber technology, and take advice from places like Japan and San Francisco who have been in our shoes, and come back with a vibrant, safe new Christchurch central city that people feel confident and happy to return to.”