Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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[a] Project for the Sub-Centre

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posted on 2021-11-13, 22:48 authored by Mills, Grace Helen Salisbury

In the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, a state of polycentric urbanity was thrust upon New Zealand’s second largest city. As the city-centre lay in disrepair, smaller centres started to materialise elsewhere, out of necessity. Transforming former urban peripheries and within existing suburbs into a collective, dispersed alternative to the city centre, these sub-centres prompted a range of morphological, socio-cultural and political transformations, and begged multiple questions: how to imbue these new sub-centres with gravity? How to render them a genuine alternative to the CBD? How do they operate within the wider city? How to cope with the physical and cultural transformations of this shifting urbanscape and prevent them occurring ad lib? Indeed, the success and functioning of the larger urban structure hinges upon a critical, informed response to these sub-centre urban contexts. Yet, with an unrelenting focus on the CBD rebuild - effectively a polycentric denial - little such attention has been granted.  Taking this urban condition as its premise and its provocation, this thesis investigates architecture’s role in the emergent sub-centre. It asks: what can architecture do in these urban contexts; how can architecture act upon the emergent sub-centre in a critical, catalytic fashion? Identifying this volatile condition as both an opportunity for architectural experimentation and a need for critical architectural engagement, this thesis seeks to explore the sub-centre (as an idea and actual urban context) as architecture’s project: its raison d’etre, impetus and aspiration.  These inquiries are tested through design-led research: an initial design question provoking further, broader discursive research (and indeed, seeking broader implications). The first section is a site-specific, design for Sumner, Christchurch. Titled ‘An Agora Anew’; this project - both in conception and outcome - is a speculative response to a specific sub-centre condition. The second section ‘The Sub-centre as Architecture’s Project’ explores the ideas provoked by the design project within a discursive framework. Firstly it identifies the sub-centre as a context in desperate need of architectural attention (why architecture?); secondly, it negotiates a possible agenda for architecture in this context through terms of engagement that are formal, critical and opportunistic (how architecture?): enabling it to take a position on and in the sub-centre. Lastly, a critical exegesis positions the design in regards to the broader discursive debate: critiquing it an architectural project predicated upon the idea of the sub-centre.  The implications of this design-led thesis are twofold: firstly, for architecture’s role in the sub-centre (especially to Christchurch); secondly for the possibilities of architecture’s productive engagement with the city (largely through architectural form), more generally. In a century where radical, new urban contexts (of which the sub-centre is just one) are commonplace, this type of thinking – what can architecture do in the city? - is imperative.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970112 Expanding Knowledge in Built Environment and Design

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Kebbell, Sam