Christchurch faces a decade of rebuilding. There is an urgent need to get started, and great pressure to get started immediately.

Decisions made soon will shape the city for generations. This is the time, right at the outset of reconstruction, to ensure that we establish a rebuilding process and framework that has the best possible chance of producing successful results.

For the people who live here now, and for those who follow us, we must determine that what we rebuild, we rebuild well.

What does this mean? What, for example, is a good building? Everyone will have an opinion about style and form and details, but the essential qualities of a good building have been settled for a long time.

In 2000 years, no one has put it better than the Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius. A good building, he wrote, has three conditions: firmness, commodity and delight. That is, a good building is safe, fit for its purpose and gives some pleasure to its occupiers and its viewers.

Right now, the first of these conditions is uppermost in all our minds, with the second close behind. People in this city have to regain their confidence in structure, and many need dwellings and workplaces suitable for temporary occupation and use.

However, when we contemplate the task of remaking large tracts of our city, we'd be wise to realise that the trinity of qualities embodied in a good building are not divisible. Our children, and theirs, will live with the rebuilding decisions we make now.

The role of building design is to integrate safety, usefulness and enjoyment. The quality that matters most is the quality of life.

Our city probably has the strongest architectural tradition in the country, and the strongest architectural lineage. Benjamin Mountfort, Samuel Hurst Seager, Cecil Wood, Sir Miles Warren and Peter Beaven - this city has always inspired good architects to design good buildings.

Even our well-publicised architectural debates show how much we care about our built environment.

Design matters in Christchurch. Those supervising the reconstruction of the city should remember that. And they should see it as a positive civic attribute - something to draw on as they put the city back together again.

Design, and the design professions, must not be alienated from the reconstruction effort; they must be integrated into it. A city in which so much has fallen down needs to feel confident about the quality of what will go up.

This applies even to the short-term accommodation, which the city requires. Care should be taken with the siting, orientation and adaptation of temporary housing. Why? Because, as we know, temporary solutions tend to become long-term conditions.

People in Christchurch will also want to be reassured that the places between buildings - and there are many more of them, now - do not become derelict wastelands. People will want spaces they can enjoy, not places they have to avoid.

Architecture and design are vitally important to the revival of Christchurch. If this city's buildings, streets and neighbourhoods are safe and enjoyable to occupy and use, people will remain here, return here and visit here.

Our future must be a designed future. The design professions are integral to the reconstruction of Christchurch, and they must have a strong voice in the rebuilding of our city.

* Jasper van der Lingen is chairman, Canterbury Branch, New Zealand Institute of Architects.