July 30, 2011

Something like a manifesto, if we were going to have one

"I think that what a person normally goes to the cinema for is time: for time lost or spent or not yet had. He goes there for living experience; for cinema, like no other art, widens, enhances and concentrates a person's experience -- and only enhances it but makes it longer, significantly longer. That is the power of cinema: 'stars', storylines and entertainment have nothing to do with it."

-- Andrei Tarkovsky, from Sculpting in Time.

July 25, 2011

Into the white

Noi Albinoi (Dagur Kari, 2003). My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007).

July 6, 2011

Indicator buildings

In the hours and days after a significant aftershock in Christchurch, we often hear about "indicator buildings" -- the phrase refers to those quake-damaged buildings that might act as ways of measuring damage more generally (four are pictured here and one is on its side -- by mistake, I hope). In the three and a half years since I moved to Christchurch I have had my own indicator buildings, and originally they had nothing to do with the quakes -- they were old, sometimes empty, sometimes near-derelict buildings that said something about the city's history, its often contradictory attitudes to heritage and my feelings, even pre-quake, about the city's future. If you came from Auckland or Wellington, you were amazed at how many empty sites the city contained -- again, even pre-quake -- and how many older buildings in prime spots stood vacant. And so it always seemed to be good news when an older building was restored and -- terrible word, this -- "repurposed", rather than just flattened for another temporary carpark that eventually becomes permanent.

Often my indicator buildings were those I walked, bussed or -- very rarely -- drove past to or from work, so my interest was between the centre of town and the southern suburbs: areas like Sydenham, Waltham and the post-industrial sites around Moorhouse Avenue.

Like most 19th century antipodean cities, Christchurch once had grand pubs on many corners. These box-like, imposing buildings had started to vanish even before the quakes, but the post-quake period has accelerated their disappearance. Most famously, the Carlton on Bealey Avenue came down in April, as have two on Colombo Street in Sydenham, several in Lyttelton, the Provincial on Cashel Street and others. The Crown Hotel at 192 Moorhouse Avenue, built c.1906 and heritage 2 listed by the council, is also a sad story.

Moorhouse Avenue is one of the four avenues that historically enclosed the Christchurch CBD. The railway line runs parallel, just to the south, meaning that Moorhouse Avenue was a transportation and distribution hub before rail fell out of favour and the main station was shifted to Riccarton. Some of the brick grain warehouses are still standing, renovated into retail spaces and cinemas. In the past couple of years the Crown was itself renovated -- a pub that had either closed its doors for good or was no longer patronised was painted and refurbished and its tenants included Jacobsen Creative Surfaces (they sell "quality flooring solutions" -- also known as "tiles").

The picture above and the two below are how the Crown looked at about 9.30 this morning. An earthquake damaged it and a digger is finishing it off. The picture immediately below is the view from across Montreal Street, with half of the front wall still up.

Another indicator building, one I have mentioned before, is at 110 Waltham Road. No pub, this -- indeed, its former life is slightly mysterious. Before the September quake, it was the clubrooms of the Canterbury Mineral and Lapidary Club. A week after the February quake, a man scraping mortar from bricks -- he was out there in the sun, day after day -- told me it was once a library, and old newspapers have references to a library on Waltham Road as far back as 1877. In the months since the February quake, the building has been painstakingly dismantled, with the kind of care you expect for an architectural treasure like the Catholic Cathedral. The bricks were removed and put in piles. Now beams are being removed. This is no sudden demolition; this is long and slow. The four pictures below were also taken this morning -- they reveal that a small wooden structure has stood behind the brick structure we saw from the street. Is it older? Is it the original building on this site? There is nothing for this address in either the council's heritage listings or the Historic Places Trust's list. The blue shipping containers are a relatively recent addition.

Further east along Moorhouse Avenue from the Crown, another pub stood empty for several years -- the Grosvenor. It was built in 1876, according to the city plan. If you looked through its windows from Moorhouse Avenue or Madras Street, you saw the lurid 70s carpet, the empty glasses and bottles, as though the pub had suddenly emptied out just the day before. The hosts' names were still above the door. It was painted peach and brown, and it was fading. It was owned by the polytech (CPIT), which owns all the buildings and land around it, and it was becoming an eyesore. Before the first quake, it was sold to a developer who tidied it up and -- since February -- has had that rare thing on his hands: a Christchurch heritage building that can still be used and occupied. According to this story, seven potential tenants were interested -- but the owner wanted a "creative" partner, a design and advertising business. If you can put aside your cynicism about a pub that was probably once patronised by men from the gasworks and railways now remade and remodelled for the post-industrial leisure sector, you would probably agree that the end result is better than another carpark or caryard, Subway outlet or new ruin. Even if it no longer has its former use, we can remember and picture its previous life.

July 4, 2011