Photographs after the Canterbury Earthquakes

Immediately after the Canterbury Earthquake of 4 September 2010, the National Library engaged photographer Ross Becker to take photographs of the structural and geological impact of the event.

We were keenly aware of the need for this. Our photographic record of the damage caused by the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake has been used over the years by geologists and engineers, as well as by historians, and the knowledge gained has fed into improved engineering, architectural and planning practice.

The catastrophic earthquake of 22 February 2011 made the need to record the built environment of Christchurch even more urgent. The city continued to experience aftershocks of varying magnitude, and the large number of unsafe structures left standing posed a significant hazard. The pressure to demolish these as quickly as possible made it likely that large areas of Christchurch would be substantially cleared before the people of the city were permitted to return. We wanted the process of deconstruction to be documented at regular intervals, in order to ensure that there was a photographic record.

Since September 2010, 8400 digital photographs have been deposited with the Library as part of this project. They are at present receiving the attention of our Curatorial, Arrangement & Description, and Digital Collection Strategy teams, so that they will continue to be available for researchers into the future.

4303 images are already processed and available for use. They show the devastation wrought in Christchurch and Lyttleton by both earthquakes. A wide range of buildings; public, commercial, church and residential, is covered. Ross Becker was provided with copies of historical photographs of Christchurch from the Alexander Turnbull Library collections, and he has been able to duplicate the viewpoints of some of those earlier images, thereby providing a unique longitudinal perspective on the event.

These images are a selection from those currently available to the public via the National Library website. They show the devastation visited on Canterbury’s architectural heritage.

Contours Gym, corner of Durham & Armagh Streets, under demolition, Oct-Dec 2011Contours Gym, corner of Durham & Armagh Streets, under demolition, Oct-Dec 2011.

A turn-of–the-century building on Lichfield Street reveals the insubstantial structure that lies beneath the impressive exterior:

136-138 Lichfield Street, 6 Mar 2012136-138 Lichfield Street, 6 Mar 2012.

Views of the intersection of Colombo and Gloucester streets, taken 100 years apart, demonstrate the radical change in the built environment. In the image taken in March 2012, the shadow of a departed building is revealed on the wall of a surviving structure.

Montague's Corner, Colombo and Gloucester Streets, ca 1880s-1920s Montague's Corner, Colombo and Gloucester Streets, ca 1880s-1920s. Ref: 1/1-005316-G

Corner Colombo and Gloucester Streets, 6 Mar 2012Corner Colombo and Gloucester Streets, 6 Mar 2012.

Aerial views of Cathedral Square taken 60 years apart, and the corner of Hereford and High 100 years apart, emphasize the transformation.

Christchurch City, Canterbury Region, including Cathedral Square, April 1947 Christchurch City, Canterbury Region, including Cathedral Square, April 1947. Ref: WA-06675

Christchurch CBD & Cathedral Square, 13 Dec 2011Christchurch CBD & Cathedral Square, 13 Dec 2011.

The intersection of Colombo Street, Hereford Street and High Street, Christchurch, ca 1880s-1920s The intersection of Colombo Street, Hereford Street and High Street, Christchurch, ca 1880s-1920s. Ref: 1/2-049502-G

The impact on the iconic churches of Christchurch is shown in these views of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and St John the Baptist Anglican Church.

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch, 23 Mar 2012Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch, 23 Mar 2012.

St John the Baptist Anglican Church, 27 May 2011St John the Baptist Anglican Church, 27 May 2011.

Views on Cashel, Worcester, Tuam, Colombo and High streets demonstrate the impact on large and small businesses, and the seemingly random nature of the destruction. Apparently untouched buildings butt up against totally destroyed structures.

North side of Cashel Mall, looking east, 27 May 2011North side of Cashel Mall, looking east, 27 May 2011.

119 Worcester Street, 27 May 2011119 Worcester Street, 27 May 2011.

127 Worcester Street, 27 May 2011127 Worcester Street, 27 May 2011.

131-135 Worcester Street, 27 May 2011131-135 Worcester Street, 27 May 2011.

Intersection of Tuam & Colombo Streets, 27 May 2011Intersection of Tuam & Colombo Streets, 27 May 2011.

Intersection of Gloucester & Manchester Streets, 27 May 2011Intersection of Gloucester & Manchester Streets, 27 May 2011.

146-152 High Street, 27 May 2011146-152 High Street, 27 May 2011.

A hastily-contrived wooden brace makes a jarring contrast with the well-kept house it is supporting.

House, 26-28 May 2011House, 26-28 May 2011.

The entrance to the Cranmer Centre is the last surviving vestige of the Christchurch Girls' High School, demolished in May 2011.

Main entrance to Cranmer Centre, 26-28 May 2011Main entrance to Cranmer Centre, 26-28 May 2011

By John Sullivan

John is the Curatorial Services Leader in the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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