Focus on performance not just appearance in the Christchurch rebuild

22 September 2020 by Jason Quinn

Christchurch City Council’s urban design team has turned in a report that looked at 46 housing developments built since new rules were introduced in 2016 to allow for greater housing density in that city.

I had a complicated reaction when I read Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel’s quote, “…nothing is going to excite me about a blank wall or a high fence, especially one that does not feel engaged with a street” [emphasis mine].

I’m not denying these things matter to folks living in these cheap and ugly buildings (or those living nearby). But, that language of “engaged with the street” is straight out of Grand Designs and other TV shows of its kind. The architectural design community values the “look and feel” of a space and it has successfully communicated that value to the public.

It’s reasonable to complain and want to fix the appearance of these monolithic apartments but just evaluating looks doesn’t go far enough (except on TV). Cold, damp, hard-to-heat housing is bad for people and our communities and businesses and our society as a whole. When folks get sick and need time off because their homes are cold and damp, they lose and so do all of us. The pity is some of those cold, damp houses are brand new and comply with the Building Code.

Building energy-efficient and comfortable new homes makes even more sense than adding nice landscaping and “engaging with the street”. How about homes engaging with our health?


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