07 Feb 2017

For Jacky Bowring, the Canterbury Earthquake Memorial is a gift to the city.

A place to remember everyone affected by the Canterbury earthquakes.

A memorial fulfilling an almost impossible task: How do you pay tribute to every victim, every family, every person who has been through the earthquakes and everyone from around the world who supported the city to recover and rebuild? 

A Professor of Landscape Architecture at Lincoln University, and global expert on memorials, Professor Bowring has lived and breathed the development of the city’s memorial to the earthquake and, in two weeks, the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial will be unveiled on the sixth anniversary of the February 22 event.

“Really it’s a gift to the city. It’s a new place for people to go to be quiet, to do whatever is right for them,” Professor Bowring says.

“This memorial is not being forced on people to say this is how you must remember. It is just one way of remembering and it might not work for everyone.

'This memorial is not being forced on people to say this is how you must remember. It is just one way of remembering' - Jacky Bowring

“It’s been an important experience for me to realise the power of design. And we know that some people will love it and some people will hate it. But the fact that the city is having that conversation is really important.”

Professor Bowring says the site, on the corner of Montreal Street and Oxford Tce, has proved an unexpected gem.

“I think people might have been surprised that this was the site chosen because it is sort of a neutral site that people probably haven’t noticed before. It wasn’t an obvious memorial site. So in some ways we have created a whole new place.

"It's taking in both sides of the river and from the south side, next to the wall, there are sweeping views of the river up to the Boat Sheds and then down to the river island. It’s almost an unexpected site. The wall will be lovely and sunny, while the north side will be shady and contemplative. And the water and river will be tranquil and healing and provide a contemplative feel. It works in different ways.”

Professor Bowring says the memorial will reflect a more modern take on paying tribute, an interactive space to be shared.

Construction is nearing completion on A Place to Remember.

Construction is nearing completion on A Place to Remember - the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial.

“I had a little bit to do with the (victims) families through workshops looking through a range of different memorials around the world. Our everyday experiences of memorials can be different.

"People in Christchurch are used to looking at war memorials, or statues of city founders, but they often don’t connect with them. We wanted to show people that there were other ways that memorials could be. You can sit within them, you can have events at them, you can share them, you can heal, or you can grieve.”

One of the biggest challenges was the process of putting names of the victims on the memorial wall. Following on from recent major international memorial developments, a decision was made not to list the victim’s names in alphabetical order.

Using the process of “meaningful adjacencies”, the names will instead appear linking people who knew each other and where the quake claimed them geographically.

Hundreds of hours have gone into working with victim's families to honour their wishes on how their loved ones' names are written, and where they are placed.

“The process of putting the names on was sensitive. In recent history there has been a change in the way names have been recorded. One of the most recent examples was the 9/11 memorial in New York. They looked at meaningful adjacencies (rather than just listing names in alphabetical order). A similar process took place here with work and family connections taken into consideration – it’s important for families to see that their loved ones are grouped, if possible, next to someone they knew. This is where they spend the rest of their days.

“And then beyond those connections, the names are random. And that reflects the random nature of this event.”

Six years in the making, Professor Bowring will be on site to see the Memorial formally dedicated at 12noon on February 22. Hundreds of family members will gather for a private blessing of the memorial beforehand, and Professor Bowring says she hopes everyone will take the opportunity to visit the memorial at some point.

“It is a gift to the city … It has been really emotional for me, especially with what people have shared with us throughout the process. And the amazing people we have worked with along the way. It will certainly be a mixture of emotions for me as it is unveiled.”