Out of the box

The Re:Start Container Mall at Christchurch, New Zealand, is testimony to the resilience and ingenuity of retail

Creativity and resilience together create wonders. We recently witnessed this at the Re:Start Container Mall at Christchurch in New Zealand.

In 2010 and 2011, the cities of Christchurch and Canterbury experienced a series of large magnitude earthquakes with aftershocks continuing for the next 3 months. The ‘main’ tremor, on 22 February 2011 was of 6.3 magnitude on the Richter scale and proved to be the most damaging of them all. It happened during lunch time, when most of the workers and shoppers in the Central Business District (CBD) of Christchurch were out on the city streets – probably a blessing in disguise. Christchurch is the second most populous city in New Zealand, and the quake took a high toll. Thousands were injured and 185 lost their lives.

▶ the city has converted ruined buildings into art galleries of sorts

The epicenter was near Lyttelton, 10 kilometers south-east of Christchurch’s central business district, consequently, commerce in the city took a hit with many retail department stores collapsing.

The quake broke down the infrastructure but not the city’s spirit, with work on rehabilitation starting within days. Christchurch is also considered to be New Zealand’s creative epicenter – with a vibrant art and cultural vibe. So the city has picked up the pieces, with panache.

There’s no ‘playing the victim’ here, no sob stories on display.  When we visited in March 2015, the city had used art to transform ruined buildings into scenic murals that have started to attract the tourists.

What struck us the most, was the Re:Start mall. This mall is made entirely of discarded shipping containers. The brainchild of the city’s Property and Building Owners group, the makeshift mall was operational in October 2011, a mere seven months after the quake. To counter the long wait for full structure buildings for retail and commercial space, the administrators wanted to encourage store owners and traders back into the CBD and ensure minimal impact on trade and commerce.

▶ The entire container mall was up within seven months after the earthquake devastation

The mall started with 27 stores and has grown to over 50 businesses today. It is one of the most striking features of the city’s renewal. It is thoughtfully designed, with open space flanked by pubs and gastro-restaurants – inviting customers to linger on a warm spring weekend, and take in a rugby match or two. Market stalls, street performers and buskers too add to the lure.While the use of containers for all sorts of purposes is now commonplace in Christchurch, the idea was a wildcard when Re:START was first conceived. Use of containers meant that retail activity was re-established in the CBD several years before it would have otherwise taken place.

Similar developments


Puma City Shipping Container Store: The tri-level, 11,000-square-foot retail store and event space made of 24 refurbished shipping containers, by the popular sportswear brand’s pre-fab initiative, was a portable Puma Store. It made clever re-use of discarded shipping containers and had been traveling around the world as a spokes-structure for both Puma and prefabricated buildings.

DeKalb Market: Made from 22 discarded shipping containers, the DeKalb Market in Downtown Brooklyn, USA was a flea market and by Urban Space Management that created quite an interest. However, the market closed down under a year to make space for other development projects.

The Decameron Design shop: Located in Sao Paulo, the Decameron Design shop is a private furniture boutique. Six containers have been stacked two stories high to make a gallery displaying furniture. The ends of the structure are capped in glass, which have been secured by the containers’ hinged doors. Using an array of bright colors, the architects also managed to emphasize the modular appeal of the design.

Re:Start is a cornerstone for the tourist industry in Christchurch and has helped propel the city to number six in the Lonely Planet guide to the ‘must visit’ places in the world.

▶ Yet another example of how art is being used to add cheer to the city

Its success has demonstrated that retail is capable of a ‘never say die’ spirit, – something for the brick and mortar retailers in India (who are in the midst of their own earthquake called e-tail) to reflect on?

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Kumar Rajagopalan and Vidya Hariharan

Kumar Rajagopalan is the CEO of Retailers Association of India and is a retail veteran with over 20 years of experience. Vidya Hariharan is an independent consultant and writer who writes on healthcare and retail.

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