Luxcity 2012 - lighting up Christchurch

by Rebecca Macfie / 20 October, 2012
Hundreds of young designers are about to light up central Christchurch – for just one night.
FETA's Luxcity 2012 - lighting up Christchurch

Christchurch’s dark heart, a place being gradually levelled by heavy machinery, will be briefly illuminated in an ephemeral display of hope and possibility on October 20. For just one night, 350 young architectural and design students from five different tertiary institutes will descend on Gloucester St, in the very centre of the devastated and mostly abandoned CBD, and build an entertainment zone made only of light and the flimsiest of materials. It will be called Luxcity. On a cluster of vacant sites in the shadow of the condemned ChristChurch Cathedral, bars, cafes and entertainment joints will be “housed” within the fleeting architectural installations created by the students.

The structures will be hoisted up and held in position for the night by the large demolition machinery that, by day, is being used to demolish more than 80% of the CBD buildings. Luxcity will mark the opening night of Christchurch’s inaugural Festival of Transitional Architecture, and has been led by Uwe Rieger, head of architecture at the University of Auckland’s school of architecture and planning. As he explains, there’s more than a touch of poetry about the concept. “We have the darkness of the centre of the city that will be illuminated for one night. And for one night these machines that are being used to tear down Christchurch are the same objects that will be holding up these structures that have been created by the future generation of architects and designers.

“The idea behind this was to bring life back for one night to the centre of the city. And because [the architecture schools] are spread all over New Zealand, the question was what could we actually do? The idea of using light enabled us to create large spatial arrangements without the need for heavy building materials.” So, for example, a group of University of Auckland students are creating a 46m x 16m space made entirely of a maze of fine-steel cable, held up by a crane and illuminated by LED lights. The structure, which the students have called Etch-a-Sketch, has been created for popular city cafe Black Betty. Black Betty owner Hamish Evans says the business will set up for the night with an offering of coffee, drinks and food. He says he was immediately captivated by the idea of a hospitality experience that was “not quite real” – Luxcity will be, literally, here today and gone tomorrow.


Another group of Auckland students have created the Kloud – a 20m x 20m space made from lightweight netting and illuminated from below with purple light. It will be occupied by the White Elephant Trust, a group dedicated to drug- and alcohol-free entertainment for young people. Manager Nathan Durkin says a DJ will be playing for the night from a cherry-picker. Another installation, called eLite, will consist of a canopy of 60 large helium balloons fitted with LED lights. It will be occupied by Volstead bar. In all there will be 15 installations, including In Your Face, consisting of a gigantic suspended balloon onto which images will be projected, and Soundcone, created by spinning green laser light. “What we are trying to do is create an image that is going to be there for one night, but will stay in people’s minds,” says Rieger. “And maybe parts of this will be transported over to new ideas when the city centre is being redeveloped. That is the idea of transitional architecture – it produces ideas that may be picked up in a different form for more permanent creations.”

Rieger believes the opportunities for an explosion of urban creativity in Christchurch are similar to what he experienced living in Berlin after the Wall came down. “All of a sudden there was space available to do new things. It wasn’t planned for, and it allowed for improvisation and creative freedom and development … Some of those projects died off, and others developed into more permanent developments.” He says Berlin’s famously innovative club scene, and the city’s reputation as a cultural centre, emerged from this transitional period when experimentation flourished and there was much greater collaboration between architects, artists, designers, musicians and other creatives.


“In New Zealand, these disciplines are currently quite separated, and there is not much overlap. But that is starting to change in Christchurch.” Rieger predicts the city will become a centre of design innovation. Camia Young, an American architect who moved to Christchurch last year and has been involved in Luxcity, agrees. She says she was in Belgrade at the end of the Milosevic regime and, like Berlin after the Wall fell, it experienced a “burst of creativity … I can’t deny that this is exactly what I see happening [in Christchurch]”. Both Rieger and Young point to groups such as Gap Filler and Life in Vacant Spaces – which has been set up to connect the owners of vacant city property with art and community groups who want to create temporary installations – as exemplars of transitional architecture. “These things might be quite small, but because there are many of them, they will have an effect on the city’s development,” says Rieger. “The space that is here allows for tests and experiments, and it demands creative thinking as well, because there need to be solutions.”

Festival of Transitional Architecture, Christchurch, October 20-28.

For more on transitional architecture, see Listener, June 16:
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