chairs

Posted by Ellen

On 22 February 2012, white-painted chairs were set up alongside busy Cashel Street in Christchurch, New Zealand, each one different from the others, all of them empty. They covered a freshly sodded swath of a freshly vacant lot, where Baptists used to go to church before an 18-second-long earthquake took out the church, along with about 8,000 other buildings in town.

The chairs memorialize the 185 residents of Christchurch who died in the quake. One hundred fifteen of them were in a six-story office building that day across the street from what is now the memorial; in 18 seconds, the building pancaked and caught fire.

The chairs appeared one year to the day after the quake. Like so much else in the city's recovery from the disaster, the chair memorial, designed by Peter Majendie, was planned as transitional and very temporary, to remain on display for a week.

It's still there. Believe it or not, vandals steal chairs from the memorial every now and then, but so far at least, they've been replaced.

This transition stuff can be tough. New Zealand's latest census figures came out last month, revealing that more than 40,000 people have left Christchurch since the earthquake. The city is no longer the country's second largest. The official estimate now is that recovery will take twenty years, minimum.

Here is how people in Christchurch described the quake to us: the earth heaved straight upward, we were told, and then plummeted, slamming back down. Eyewitnesses reported seeing people literally thrown up into the air.

The next several posts will look at what's going on there nowadays, a little less than three years later.