a political statement of hope in 3D. Attending Christchurch's Festival of Transitional Architecture held over the Labour Day weekend is a very much a real world thing I've been doing for last three years - a kind of checking-in to see for myself how the city is doing. This year, more than any other, I was struck by the unreality of it all.

I don't mean the dystopic landscape of the central city, the fact that almost four years on from the earthquakes so little has been done. That the city still feels like a war zone - vast devastated empty spaces, uneven ground, dust that covers your shoes, forlorn crumbling buildings propped and abandoned, and, when the wind blows, so much flapping of frayed building paper or plastic wrapping hanging torn at broken edges.

No, I'm talking about how FESTA is such a virtual world event, made real for one night, and how it gets you thinking about all sorts of things - digital visualisation technology, augmented reality, big data, sensing data, and, oddly, how most of the mainstream media seems so totally disengaged.


Start with how this year's event - CityUps - got off the ground with a $25,000 pledgeme project. It hit its target on 9 October with just 370 pledgers. In the scheme of things that was a minor top-up for this crowd-created festival, an incredible coming together of sponsors, funders, collaborators, installation partners and the public.

Layher Ltd, for example, came to the party with 20 tonnes of scaffolding which TNL transported from Wellington to Christchurch. Here you have to pay respect to the team and the trust board who work so tirelessly to make it happen - in particular the indefatigable director Jessica Halliday.

FESTA 2014 centred on 265 New Zealand architecture and fine arts students, mostly from Auckland, descending on the city's High Street and transforming two blocks with 13 towering, glowing, pulsating physical installations hung from scaffolding frames. The futuristic one night city included a dome of orange road cones, also arranged to form a spiky perimeter, long draped strands of plastic bottles, an enormous chandelier of bulbous swinging water balloons and a wafting luminous wall of ducting tubes.

Photo gallery: FESTA 2014

Entering the zone under a dazzling string portal, I encountered a group of students sitting among a circle of blankets and cushions. It looked like a scene from Waiting for Godot - a kind of defiance in the blasted heath of Christchurch's desolate vacant lots.

The sign read: "Is it better yet?" - an invitation to write a note for a time capsule.
Elsewhere, recurring themes were dance and play, with children and adults getting amongst street games, dance group performances, the swinging orbs, and interacting with the performers in neon lit suits and a giant suspended sphere.

Ever since the temporary Dance-o-Mat was installed soon after the earthquakes many in the city have shown a willingness to dance in the face of adversity. CityUps' dance venues extended the concept with a ring of wobbly inflatable columns and a suspended rectangle of billowing diaphanous cloth, a projection screen for live video footage.

Then there was a bustling night market and an array of food vendors and pop-up bars. A 10,000 strong crowd enjoyed the surreal reality. Except for The Press, the mainstream media ignored it.

What did it all mean? There's a sense in this one-day projection of ideas onto a distressed city landscape of an alternate possibility for development. The essential idea of FESTA is that what the city really needs is life and activity. In this respect, it's a critique of the current rebuild blueprint and its focus on anchor projects like the convention centre and justice precinct to get the city going again. There are plenty of examples - the Re Start Mall, the Cardboard Cathedral, EPIC and various Gap Filler projects - to back their claim that transitional building works.

Then there's the idea of using technology to test possibilities. As well as its physical incarnation CityUps also featured digital creations for the future of Christchurch using the smartphone application, CityViewAR, developed by Hit Lab NZ. The augmented reality application allows people to walk around the city and see on their smartphone life-sized virtual models of what the buildings looked like on site before they were demolished.

CityUps+, an augmented reality competition, takes the concept further and allows the public to view a cavalcade of imaginary virtual futures for the city. Take a look at the enchanting, whimsical what-might-be.

By now, it's clear to many the rebuilding of Christchurch is progressing far too slowly. If those in charge care to notice, FESTA suggests a smart way forward to bring life back into the city.