Barnaby Bennett and Christchurch: The Transitional City Pt IV

Transitional is a significant word in Christchurch – up there with resilience. Barnaby Bennett is more attuned to this than most. He designs buildings and writes about activism. He is also the founder of Freerange Press. Their book Christchurch: The Transitional City Pt IV captures projects big and small in print.

He is also the chair of the FESTA Festival of Transitional Architecture board. Barnaby answered some questions ahead of the 2013 FESTA (Labour weekend 25 to 28 October in Christchurch).

FESTA events include Canterbury Tales, an extravaganza of light, colour and interactivity featuring a procession of large puppets and masked performers.

Barnaby Bennett Barnaby Bennett Cover of Transitional City

I see that the book has an association with CEISMIC - what do you think about the ways stories, news, and images are being saved?
It is obviously very important that as much as possible gets saved from this time because it is all happening so quickly. Things are appearing and disappearing so rapidly. There is a beauty and wonder in that, but it also easy to miss important things. I think places like CEISMIC are doing a great job collecting as much as possible, but the creative and media disciplines seem to be struggling to translate the scale of the change into stories. But I’m sure this will develop in time.
The book is comprehensive in what it covers - from bandaid street art, to apps, to the RDU Unit, and colocation of schools. How did you decide what came under the heading transitional?
We purposefully went for a very simple and broad definition and tried to collect as much as possible within that. The criteria for inclusion were:
  • It needed to be a project that happened in a specific time and place, so no organisations, institutions, or people, just projects.
  • It needed to have happened post-quake.
  • It needed to be temporary in some manner(in a loose definition as everything is ultimately temporary).
  • It needed to be open to the public.
There were a few entries that stretched these rules such as the inclusion of CERA, but in these cases we thought the book would be missing an important part of the story if we left them out.
Cardboard Cathedral, Latimer Square
Has the book been successful? Are there plans for a followup?
We’ve been amazed at how well the book has gone. (It’s certainly forced us to become a lot more professional and organised!) We are up to our third edition now, and have added another 50 projects from the first edition. I’m not sure if we’ll keep adding projects to the book after this edition. Partly because it is getting too thick, and partly because the nature of the projects is changing and I think different modes of communicating this may be necessary. We are planning another publication on Christchurch to launch before the election next year. We are also really happy to be giving 10% of the price of the new edition of the Transitional City book to the City Mission.
What role do you think libraries play in the transitional city? What do you think about our temporary facilities in Tuam Street, Peterborough Street, and now at Linwood?
I think the temporary libraries are amazing, and perhaps like other organisations that have been forced to rapidly adapt, it offers the opportunity to reconsider what is really important about libraries for people today. I hope all the lessons from this process and how the public have reacted are informing the development of the new central library.
Architecture and design are an important part of the book - is there a particular building or project you are particularly impressed with?
Hmm, I think what I’m most surprised and delighted with is how so many unconnected people have taken it upon themselves to work outside of the normal conventions to create things of value. At times New Zealand can be quite conservative in its imagination and vision, but these projects consistently illustrate how much is bubbling away beneath the surface. My favourite project actually happened after the latest projects were added to the book. I think the Temple for Christchurch was an amazingly well thought through and beautifully crafted gift to the city. In all the rush to talk about planning, and jobs, and recovery and developers the organisers of that project showed how much value and beauty can be created by bringing things together carefully and quietly, even if only temporarily.
Temple for Christchurch
Oh, and FESTA (I’m on the board) is and was amazing, so that is a favourite. FESTA is sort of like the book. We have our own visions for some projects, but more important than this is to enable other people in the city to realise that their ideas and hopes and dreams are what will make this place amazing.
I think there is a bit of humour in this book - the inclusion of the Red Zone, CERA, and the Anglican Cathedral amongst some tiny projects seemed quite droll. What role do you think whimsy and humour play in the Transitional city?
For the most part in this book we just wanted to let people find their own narratives and stories and to create a field of different ways of viewing the post-quake scene. This is the reason we didn’t put the projects into any sort of ordering system like categories, or timelines, or authors. However, we have our own views on some projects and some of the processes so yes we did have a little bit of fun with the inclusion of some entries. But I’d like to think this is just another story in the book, not the reason we did it which is really a much simpler idea of presenting the remarkable works of so many different people in such a short time.

More about Barnaby Bennett and transitional Christchurch

Transitional Christchurch – in Auckland
A blog post about Barnaby’s session at the 2013 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.
Temple for Christchurch
Our photos of the Peterborough Street temple.
Temporary libraries
Find out about our temporary libraries at Bishopdale, Central Library Peterborough, Central Library Tuam, Linwood, and Central South City.
Our images include images of transitional projects and architecture in Christchurch.

Art by Wongi and Ikarus Gap filler book exchange Dance o mat Luxcity MED Building, Lichfield Street Pianist Tim Driver

Interview by Donna Robertson, editor of the Digital Library Services web team at Christchurch City Libraries, October 2013.