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A New Agora: a project for the sub-centre

Part 2 Project 2013
Grace Mills
Victoria University of Wellington Wellington New Zealand
Following the destructive 2011 earthquake, the New Zealand city of Christchurch has undergone vast and rapid transformation. With close to 1000 of its buildings irrevocably damaged, the city centre has been rendered largely unusable. In its absence, peripheral suburbs have come to assume a new role within the urban structure - as smaller, dispersed centres absorbing the activity of the former CBD.

For architecture, the problem here is as intriguing as it is significant. There is a clear need to bring a sense of gravity and vitality to these new centres, such that they might act as veritable alternatives to the CBD. So, how can architecture critically respond to this emerging polycentric condition? As suburbs densify and diversify - as living meets working and as public converges with private - what can architecture do to deliver a more ‘central’ condition? What tectonic and programmatic opportunities arise?

Through a formal, experimental design methodology, A New Agora addresses these questions in a site-specific setting. The project re-configures an existing village green in a maritime suburb as a new centre: catering for a veritable mix of public, private and sub-centre activities. Drawing from the pavilion/grandstand type and integrating it with a more informal architectural language, ideas about live-work and public-private in ever closer proximity are tested and enacted through the architecture’s spatio-formal character. Two ‘housing pavilions’ occupy the site, each with inhabitable terraces, a dense mixture of spatial conditions, a live-work chasm and an expansive public porch.

In ancient Greece, the Agora was the centre of political, social and athletic activity: a place of public assembly. This project re-thinks this concept in a contemporary and acutely-relevant polycentric setting. The sub-centre becomes architecture's project: seen as an urban context equally in need of innovation, imagination and critical response.

For Christchurch, A New Agora may be seen as a catalytic intervention on a vastly changing urban structure: challenging a more typical response and presenting one possible alternative. More generally, this design is a direct consideration and commentary on architecture's multi-faceted, critical relationship with the city: ultimately understanding the two as fundamentally intertwined.

Grace Mills


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