My thoughts on the Elevated Garden City idea

Grant shared the Elevated Garden City with me over the phone last week. It immediately sounded pretty cool.

In my past professional life I graduated from Canterbury Uni with an hons degree in Geography, and then spent the first 8 years of my working life making maps with fancy GIS software which cost $100k and required arcane knowledge of cryptic commands and codes to achieve what my mother can now achieve in 3 clicks on Google Maps.

Even though I have since been distracted by the Internet, and spent most of the last 12 years building virtual spaces on the Internet, I still have a passion for real spatial and visual information, and Christchurch is my home town, so I was happy to get involved.

We agreed to build a website to try to communicate the idea more clearly and also to give us a place where the idea could be discussed and expanded on. Grant registered the domain, and I set up the site. ¬†At this stage my thoughts are very similar to Grant’s but they are probably worth sharing.

My vision of the Elevated Garden City (at the moment at least!) is:

  • Replace demolished buildings with 2 or 3 story buildings that have office space on the lower floors and retail space on the top level.
  • Connect the buildings at the upper levels (above road level at least) with walkways so that people can move between buildings easily without having to descend, which leaves the traffic flow below unimpeded by pedestrians and vice versa.
  • The buildings would have flat roofs that could be developed into or incorporate “elevated garden” spaces. These green spaces could be incorporated into upper level (or even down into the lower level to create a courtyard or similar) or could just be a retreat at the top level (eg: BBQ/Picnic area).
  • I also could see that the flat roofs and/or other surrounding roofs could be used for solar and water collection to feed the buildings below.
  • In addition solar light collectors could be installed on the roofs to provide sunlight into the office spaces below.

My immediate thoughts where of some of architect Bjarke Ingels ideas that I saw in his TED talk from 2009. (Bjarke Ingels is principal of BIG, based in Copenhagen.)

Particularly the bit about the “Mountain Dwellings” development (as featured on the still from the video above).

As terrible as the devastation has been in Christchurch it excites me to be thinking about the future and how we can rebuild out beloved city.

I look forward to hearing other peoples thoughts.

About Julian

Julian has been working with web technologies as a systems architect, administrator and software engineer since late last century (1994 to be exact), with Landcare Research, NBCi, RealContacts, Eurekster and most recently YikeBike. He also founded, which hosts the PDA user website PalmHeads, and rugby fan website, RugbyHeads, amongst other things. He has a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Geography and Information Systems from the University of Canterbury, which attracted him to Christchurch and he has never left.
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8 Responses to My thoughts on the Elevated Garden City idea

  1. Eliot says:

    The TED talk is interesting, as the opening lines are “Public debate about architecture often stays on contemplating the final result – the architectural object…. Later we asked ourselves whether we could invent a format tell the stories behind the projects.”

    The proposal on this site is also in some ways “showing the final result”, rather than asking what are the characteristics of the place that we want to create, and also what power ‘we’ have to influence/control/specify what is created.

    To give a personal example, I recently mentioned to a friend that it would be an opportunity to widen some streets, and he responded ‘why wide streets, why not narrow interesting ones?’, and on reflection I replied ‘actually what I want is to feel safe on my bike in town without being crushed between cars and buses and so on’ this might be achieved by wider streets, but on the other hand narrower streets where there just isn’t room for cars to overtake bikes, or elevated cycle ways on top of buildings could also realise the same goal.

  2. Being originally from Amsterdam and having seen a lot of the world, I think there is a great opportunity for Christchurch to become a futuristic, eco friendly city. I love the elevated garden city idea. I would prefer a car free inner city with transport such as a monorail to get access to the shops and gardens or an electric bus system. But even the old cable cars could work, like in San Francisco. We can keep part of the city as the old historic centre where historic facades could be kept or replicated but the rest of the buildings earthquake proof. In another part of the city there could be futuristic buildings, different shapes and sizes, all eartquake proof of course. And green, lots of green, since we are the garden city and we should remain colourful and green! Dubai has some futuristic buildings, as an example. See

  3. virginia says:

    I love the sound of a sustainable green city as you describe. I have not travelled to other such cities and have no background in architecture. As I live in the suburban area of Christchurch city, I hope the vision would extend to the outer edges of Christchurch as well as the business end of the city. This is where many of the people who keep the city actually operating live. Green space, transport, creative opportunities and inspiration are as vital here as they are in the middle of the CBD . for example New Brighton, a beach suburb badly damaged by the affects of the earthquakes of the last six months could be made a wonderful respite from the busy city with some inspirational architecture for both living and working, and associated resources were focussed there.

  4. John says:

    I switched on the computer this morming and was delighted to see this concept for Christchurch.
    Totally coincidentally I had been thinking of exactly the same think the previous night and had spoken about it to friends on 18th March, all of whom reacted positively. I could hardly believe my eyes to see it on Stuff this morning. However maybe that isn’t so incredible, perhaps it is because it is so clearly the most sensible way for Christchurch to go. Roof top gardens and children’s play areas are family friendly and will draw people back into the city. They will also make the idea of living in the central city much more appealing for families and businesses. My wife previously worked in a high rise and like many others has vowed she will NEVER go back to one in Christchurch. Apart from their inappropriateness on our soils they create dark canyons in the winter and wind tunnels with the easterly, southerly and all other winds. An elevated garden city would we wonderful in winter as well as summer.
    Why not also get creative with the hiring of segways, cycles and monbility scooters so that people of all ages and fitness levels can navigate the city without the hassle of the traffic.
    While in Sweden recently I visited the “greenest city” in Europe, Vaxjo. Let Christchurch learn from what they have done and take it one step further. We could be the “greenest city” on earth. What a draw card that would be. Incidentally Bob Parker espoused the dream of a focus on education to honour the dead teachers and students from 22nd Feb. How much more attractive for schools and tertiary providers to establish in the such an environment.

  5. Chris says:

    Just wanted to say what a great idea, wouldn’t this fit so well with Christchurch being the “Garden City”? It would make it truly beautiful and unique for NZ. I know I would love to live in an inner city apartment with roof-top gardens – what a way to immediately make inner city living feel relaxed.

  6. Grant Ryan says:

    Thanks for comments. The aim of the elevated space is to make it work similar to a normal street frontage. If you want your space to be private then you could put a fence and gate but you will still want the path going past to link to the rest of the city.
    For offices long term this could become a more important entry way for the business than ground level.
    For apartments you could have your private back yard but could then store your bike there and use it to get around town without ever needing to take it to ground level.

  7. HB says:

    Fantastic idea. I really like your concept images. Amending planning laws to suit this concept would be worthwhile and a series of rooftop gardens and courtyards would really add to the character of the city.
    I can imagine the connecting bridges between buildings to be worthwhile on a small scale within a restaurant/bar/shopping precinct, where access between different buildings is desirable. Elsewhere, I think that connecting bridges between offices or apartments would not work, as building owners would want to keep access to their own garden or courtyard restricted to their own employees or tenants for security and maintenance reasons.

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