Artist: Jessica Halliday, Uwe Reiger
Location: Christchurch, New Zealand

Year: 2012
Researcher: Peter Shand

Luxcity was the central event of the 2012 Festival of Transitional Architecture (FESTA) held in Christchurch, New Zealand. It combined significant pedagogical opportunities for 350 students in five tertiary architecture and design programmes in New Zealand with a cohesive series of 16 temporary public artworks of large scale. Luxcity was conceived and realized as an action of support, resilience and provocation to the citizens of Christchurch.

In September 2010 and February 2011 the cities of Christchurch and Lyttleton were devastated by two major earthquakes. Much of the Christchurch central city district became derelict, with a majority of its buildings (historic and late twentieth century) rendered uninhabitable in the aftermath of the February catastrophe. Much of the city centre was re-designated as a “red zone”, meaning that people were denied access to much of the civic space of the central city not simply buildings condemned on safety grounds. Already traumatised by the disaster and the attendant loss of life, citizens were consequently alienated from the civic centre of their own community. That condition exacerbated a sense of dislocation and loss that occurred in the aftermath of the earthquakes. It also became an increasing challenge for the citizens of Christchurch to come to be at peace with the events that had affected them so significantly.

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Conceptually, Luxcity was conceived around the central notion of hopefulness that accompanies the central theme of light or lightedness. Literally, the creative interventions in most of the “red zone” illuminated areas of the city from which citizen had been barred for over eighteen months as demolition and clean-up commenced. Much of that work was continuing when Luxcity was realised. Metaphorically, the project acted as a beacon or light for what the city might become as it moved from clean-up to re-build. Many of the projects were interactive and invited social activation, both within an artistic context and the normative activities of any urban centre (food, drink, dancing, communication).

It was in this sense that it offered a profound sense of optimism and possibility but with a substantial degree of respectful provocation. It was, in this sense, an act of generosity and support offered by those involved in the project to the citizens of Christchurch, an act with the potential to be healing whilst also encouraging active engagement with the city’s possible new futures.

Presented as a one-night festival of light, Luxcity sought to ameliorate the trauma of opening-up the “red zone” and honouring those who had lost their lives there and in the wider region. It combined an underlying memorial activity with the warmth and a sense of possibility and purpose for those who remained in the city. As a reflection of how this gift was received, attendance at the event was more than five times organisers’ estimates. Moreover, the audience was multigenerational and included a large number of family groups. It affected a shift, in this respect, from the support of family and friends to a real experience of a communal and collective act of strength and support for the community as a whole. This at an event that both lit-up the area of devastation whilst simultaneously enlivening and humanizing the spaces newly cleared of buildings and rubble.

It is also important to note that the projects undertaken were partnerships between practitioners, academics and students. This component afforded a critical pedagogical opportunity to undertake course-related practice that was firmly and positively rooted in ethical social engagement. Rather than imposed monoliths, then, Luxcity realized a suite of transitional and temporary creative propositions that called upon citizens’ individual and collective imaginations – inviting acts of intellectual, phenomenological and psychological re-building that echoed the civic activity of reconstruction but also helped to advance criticality and to raise new possibilities.

It is this interweaving of social ethics, youthful experimentation, generosity of offer and rigorous intellectual and emotional conceptualisation that suggests Luxcity ought to be considered for a public art award.

The project was developed out of Studio Christchurch, a pedagogical initative led by Uwe Rieger, an architect and academic who has previously worked on social arhitecture and public creative projects in East Berlin. Studio Christchurch is itself a response to the oppoprtunities for advanced leanring and research that students might obtain by working in Christchurch and seeing projects developed for the city realised. It does so in a manner that is socially aware and remains cognizant of the significant trauma experienced by the citizens of the city - to this end it is not an imposition or demeaning experiment but a project of empathy and provocation. The event took place within the larger Festival of Transitional Architecture, conceived and managed by Jessica Halliday.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency