It’s hard to know what to say about the last two weeks here in Christchurch. It has been a distressing and surreal time and will continue to be for some time yet. I know that many New Zealanders are trying to understand what people in Christchurch are going through, and for that reason, I’d like to share my experience with you.
The earthquake hit as I was preparing to meet with Rose and Marcel in our central city studio for a Felt planning session. I was armed with many coloured Post-its and Mel (of Black Swan Designs, and also my business partner at Board of Design) had helped me set up our whiteboard before heading home for the afternoon. Rose and Marcel were due to arrive at 1pm.
Mel had only just left and I was finishing my lunch when the first jolt happened. In that first instant, I knew it was going to be bad. Our building, though old, has a solid floor and we had been surprised at how little we felt many of the aftershocks from September. This time though, it was sudden and terrifyingly violent. The computers all turned off in front of me as the power went out. I was standing between my desk and the table in the centre of the room, and I didn’t know which way to go. The nice solid desk was against the brick wall and the bricks were starting to fall in on it. The table suddenly seemed completely unsubstantial. Neither felt like a good option. Thick dust came rushing in the door from the stairs as the (thankfully empty) building next door collapsed in on itself, and mortar dust flew out of the brick wall, making it hard to breathe or see. I still don’t know how, but somehow I made my way across the room to the door, where I held the door open, hoping its glass wouldn’t shatter and trying desperately to remember whether I’d heard Mel close the door as she left downstairs. I didn’t know if she was still in the building and I wanted to yell out to her but the noise was unbelievable. I saw daylight appear to either side of me as the walls fell.
When the shaking finally stopped I crept into the hall to the stairs, which were thankfully intact. And to my great relief, the door at the bottom was wide open to the street. As I reached the bottom of the stairs I saw Mel and Rose, standing together in the middle of the road. The masonry above the door had slumped and some had fallen – if the door had been shut, it would have stuck and opening it would have brought more bricks down. As it was, an aftershock a few minutes later had bricks tumbling down over the doorway I had just run from.
Unbeknownst to me, Rose had arrived early for our meeting and had met Mel as she was leaving. As Mel turned back to unlock the door and let Rose in, the shaking started and they both ran out into the street, clear of the brick facade and leaving the door wide open. Every day since then I’ve thought to myself how lucky we were. How lucky Rose was early, how lucky Marcel hadn’t left home yet, how lucky they weren’t in the building or hit by debris, how lucky Mel opened the door.
And every day since then, along with the rest of New Zealand, my heart has just about broken for the families and friends of those who weren’t so lucky.
We walked away from our beautiful office in Bedford Row, knowing it was broken beyond repair. As we reached Madras Street, we glimpsed the ruins of the CTV building, so completely unrecognisable as a building that I couldn’t work out what was supposed to be there. We could smell gas. Water and silt gushed up through cracks between the road and pavement. The mud kept sucking my shoes off. We walked in the middle of the road, dodging cars and massive puddles and staying as far from buildings as we could. And eventually, we got home.
Christchurch will recover from this. We will never be the same, but we owe it to those who lost their lives and to those who are left behind to rebuild our city and live our lives well, knowing how precious they are. My vision for Felt and Board of Design has taken on new meaning to me post-quake. No longer just personal endeavours, the success of my businesses now feels to me like my role in the rise of Christchurch.
It has taken me two weeks to write this, and last night I cried for the first time since that Tuesday. I hope that sharing my story maybe gives some insight to those outside our shaky city who I know are trying to understand what we are going through. Your support and empathy means more than you can know.