Standing at the current edge of the red zone, looking through the cyclone fencing, we found the city centre looked much as we’d expected. But it sounded wrong – not because of the noise of ‘deconstruction’ (diggers, graders, sliding glass and metal) – but because there wasn’t anything else. No hum, no traffic, no music. Not quiet, but empty. Looking around, wondering how far the emptiness extended.

All around the city, the impossibility of getting a sense of how things really are. Walking past a five-storey building, you’d think it had come through OK, then notice that it had no lights on and a couple of windows were unnaturally open; or you’d drive past a hillside covered in houses that seemed fine until it occurred to you that one of them was boarded up – and looking closer you’d see that a number of others were too. How much is going to be left, finally?


Outside the art gallery, ‘Reconstruction’ – an exhibition on panels, digitised images from several museum and gallery collections – photographs, drawings, maps from Christchurch’s beginnings to its recent past. A C Barker’s photographs of buildings in cleared space, taken in the 1860s, are given a new context here, now that the urban landscape resembles them again. It’s a strange refreshing of history. Everything lost had to be built; they did it, so can we.