Gap Filler NZ - Pallet Pavilion

Following the horrendous earthquakes in the New Zealand South Island city of Christchurch, many buildings and structures needed to be demolished, leaving countless ‘gaps’ in the city’s architecture.

Rather than seeing forgotten, unloved, empty spaces, a small group of creative minds saw opportunity to rebuild a community. They came together to establish Gap Filler to re-activate these spaces for the people of Christchurch in creative and inventive ways. We speak to Gap Filler Director, Coralie Winn.

“How does temporary activity bring life to the city? How does it support business? How does it support creative people, and how does temporary activity allow us to experiment with use of space to buy time for the longer-term rebuilding process? That’s really how it came to be.” Coralie Winn

How did the Gap Filler concept come about?

There were three of us who came together after the first quake here in Christchurch in September 4, 2010. It was a response to what was happening in the city.

There were gaps appearing at that time and the city was dying ­– which wasn’t new, that had been going on pre-quake, but it had really accelerated it. With these spaces around the place where buildings used to be, there wasn’t anything that everyday people and creative people could do to speed up the rebuilding process. There was a real feeling of loss.

We started off doing just one project, a kind of experiment. How does temporary activity bring life to the city? How does it support business? How does it support creative people and how does temporary activity allow us to experiment with use of space to buy time for the longer-term rebuilding process? That’s really how it came to be.

The background of the people involved are architecture, theatre, film, performance and the arts and project management.

Could you briefly tell us about 3 of your favourite Gap Filler projects?

I’d have to say for me personally as the Director of Gap Filler, the cycle-powered cinema where we designed and built a system where people could ride their own bikes in to generate power.

We used the gap that was once a cycle shop and all the films we screened were cycle related, which was great as it’s also referring to an issue in Christchurch – the lack of proper cycle infrastructure in a city that’s totally flat and small and perfect for cycling.

Also I’d have to say the Dance-o-mat is a huge favourite, because it’s just such a wonderful, simple and brilliant idea. It’s been used so much and it’s really been very successful. It demonstrated that people will dance in public.

Also I think for me the book exchange. Which is a very small project, very simple, but once again, so many people have used it and it’s really become embedded in the local community, serving a need. Not so much a need now as when it was first there, when all the libraries were closed, but it still gets used all the time.

Last year you opened the Pallet Pavilion project, how was the space first identified and who was contacted to secure it?

The space is where the Crown Plaza hotel used to be. We spent ages trying to find a site for this project, it was really challenging. We rang the owners of the Crown Plaza in Singapore and they told us to ring Sydney, and they told us that the land was actually owned by the council but leased to the Crown Plaza people. So we actually got permission from the Crown Plaza lease holders and then the owners, the council, to use the land.

What was required to secure the space?

Well, a ‘licence to occupy’ agreement which is drafted by a legal firm here that do stuff for us pro bono, which had a lot of conditions to do with use. We also are required to have public liability insurance as part of that license to occupy. A lot of negotiation was required to finally secure it, but ultimately the council was super supportive. It’s the first time Gap Filler has actually used council land, we normally use private land.

What were the costs?

Because we don’t pay to use the land – it’s in our principles that we won’t pay to use the land – our costs were the pallets themselves, getting power and water to the site – again we didn’t incur huge costs there, because we managed to get a lot sponsored.

Basically the pallet pavilion was massive and we ended up really only paying around NZ$25,000 for materials, which is absolutely ridiculous when you look at the size of the project. We’re extremely fortunate with the stuff that we managed to get sponsored. You can see on the pallet pavilion page of our website all the logos of the different companies that were involved there.

You recently ran a successful crowd-funding campaign to retain the space for another year. Why was this necessary and how did you find the process?

Basically we intended the pavilion to be deconstructed, but across March and April, so many people expressed their surprise at that, or started questioning why it needed to come down at all. Really it comes down to the cost, and that’s because of the security we’re required to have (part of our building consent).

The fire services were extremely concerned about our project when we presented it to them. They thought it was an arson temptation and the only way we could get them to agree to support our project was if we agreed to 24-hour presence on site.

So in terms of the indecision around not knowing what was happening with the pallet pavilion was really exhausting, but the process of crowd-funding was pretty exciting. Rather than us saying ‘hey, we want to keep the pavilion, help us pay for it’, it was ‘these are the costs to keep it for one more year; it’s security, it’s power, it’s the space, it’s maintenance, it’s all that stuff, it’s a lot of money, what do you think?’. ‘All of you people out there that are saying to us that it should stay, put your money where your mouth is and donate money.’

It was quite incredible how the word did spread about the fundraising campaign. It was truly humbling when the total started to climb. I was quite nervous in the beginning. Although deep down I knew it was possible, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it, but it really was quite nerve-wracking.

I mean, what a seemingly impossible task, to raise $80K in a month. The fact that we did is testament to the imagination that the project’s captured, but also I think the community involvement from day one. 250 people helped build it, 55+ companies sponsored it, then there was all the volunteers over summer and all the people that have used it, it’s gone so far and wide, it’s really just people power that made it happen.

What were the resources available to you?

We had sponsored engineering, a team of designers and a licensed building practitioner who was able to work with us and sign the project off for consent. We had the pallets sponsored, electrical sponsored, steel sponsored and companies willing to bring large concrete slabs from demolition to the site as our foundations. We had massive sponsorship. That was basically me and one other person working to secure that.

Who helped?

Basically it was companies that gave us skilled people and machinery, and people to operate the machinery. So, there was a lot of work on sponsorship, over $200,000 worth of sponsored materials and labour. Actually building the pavilion was a lot of unskilled volunteers who ranged in age from 16 to 65.

What were/are the obstacles?

The scale of the project, the pallet pavilion site is absolutely massive and far too big for us. So the obstacles were: trying to achieve something of that size, an actual building, with a charitable trust’s tiny budget and capacity; the ongoing security costs that we’re required to meet; and all the work that needs to go into setting up a community venue to run well over summer.

What were/are the risks?

The risks were that we’d get half way and not be able to finish it; that it would mentally break us; and that people wouldn’t use it, that it would be a dead white elephant of a space.

Also, with the crowd-funding, it had the risk that people would react badly to the amount of money that we were asking for and there could have been a potential backlash against Gap Filler for asking for that amount of money once people are aware of how much it costs, but similarly there could have been a backlash if we’d have just pulled the pavilion down without asking people to donate. They could have been affronted by the idea that we wouldn’t consult them on that process.

Could you tell us about any upcoming projects?

We’re working on one called Re-cycling, which involves cycling and recycling, with a community bike workshop and up-cycling bicycles.

Musical Streets is a project which will involve creating musical instruments with lots of different people and taking them to the streets and installing them around the place, near footpaths and what have you.

We’re looking at bringing the Dance-o-mat back in springtime, there is potentially a bike touring project in the pipeline as well and a collaboration with local artists on wall-based projects. Up-scaling our Gap Golf mini golf course all around the city, building new holes.

There’s also a small gallery project – a one-person gallery where people can go in and view artworks on a screen – which is responding to the lack of a city gallery, which is closed. That’s just some of what we’re developing, there’s always lots of cool stuff in the pipeline coming through, suggested by the community.

Gap Filler