We spent our last day in New Zealand in downtown Christchurch. On February 22, 2011 a 6.3 magnitude earthquake shook the core of this city. Stronger earthquakes have struck this area with no fatalities, but none with an epicenter so close to downtown. Three years after the earthquake, the destruction left behind is still visible all across downtown. Buildings still lie in rumble, entire city blocks remain fenced off, and many businesses are boarded up and have been standing empty for three years now.
We visited the chair memorial – an open-air installation with white chairs commemorating each individual victim of the 2011 earthquake.
I looked across all the white chairs – 185 in total. Each one representing a life lost on that tragic day. Each chair unique, just as each individual was unique. In the middle of the front row sat an infant car seat – just the sight of it made my heart ache. The youngest victim was just five months old. So many lives tragically cut short.
I looked through the list of the 185 who lost their lives on that tragic day. My eyes were drawn to this line “Rachel Elizabeth CONLEY, age 27, of the United States of America”. I took a picture to remember to look up her story when I got home.
Well, I didn’t look Rachel up until just today, as I was writing this blog and came across her name on the picture. She was the only American killed in the earthquake. She was nearing the end of her travels around the world and was scheduled to fly home just hours after the earthquake hit. In an instant, her life was gone. I am reminded of the fragility of life. None of us are guaranteed a tomorrow. Each person who died in that earthquake has a story. And I’m sure none of them woke up that day thinking it was going to be their last.
At the memorial is a statement from the artist, Pete Majendie: “185 square metres of grass depicting new growth, regeneration. 185 white chairs, all painted twice by hand as an act of remembrance. This installation is temporary – as is life.”
After some time at the chair memorial, we visited the nearby Cardboard Cathedral. The Christchurch Cathedral was badly damaged in the earthquake and services now take place at this Cardboard Cathedral. Eight shipping containers form the walls of its A-frame design.
The front window incorporates images from the Christchurch Cathedral’s original rose window.
The interior incorporates nearly 100 cardboard tubes two feet in diameter.
After visiting the Cardboard Cathedral, we headed to Re:START, a container mall constructed after the earthquake to “breathe new life” into downtown Christchurch. Its designer knew the wait for new buildings would be too long. Re:START opened just 6 months after the earthquake, bringing commerce back to downtown. The container mall is home to over 50 business today – primarily retail stores, restaurants, and coffee shops.
Re:START is truly a breath of life amidst the surrounding devastation – a symbol of the recovery of this city and the resilience of its people.