A model tribute in Christchurch

A model tribute in Christchurch

Not long after the devastating Christchurch earthquake in 2011, artist and local resident Richard Gardiner went to visit a friend whose ruined house was about to be torn down. The friend, who was living in a temporary flat, asked Mr Gardiner if he could make a replica of the house before it was demolished.

The pair went to visit the house and talked their way past New Zealand soldiers who were preventing access to the damaged properties. Mr Gardiner looked around, took some photographs and built a miniature model of the demolished house which is now proudly on display at the owner's new home.

And so began a new phenomenon in the city, with Mr Gardiner, a retired high school art teacher, building miniature models of houses for residents who want to keep the memory alive before their properties are torn down.

"After I did the first house, a teacher I knew contacted me and said her parents' house had been wrecked and asked me to build a model," he told The Sunday Times.

"It gradually grew like that and just became a steady stream of people who had lost their houses."

Mr Gardiner, 69, who moved from England to Christchurch with his family when he was eight years old and is married with two sons, has built 45 replicas of buildings and still has a steady backlog of orders.

His replicas have ranged from humble, relatively inexpensive houses to century-old estates. He has made models of landmark buildings such as churches and chapels and the country's oldest police station, built in the 1880s.

A Christchurch resident, Mrs Jan Parkin, 65, and her husband, Phil, 68, learnt about Mr Gardiner's business from a local television news story and ordered a model of their home.

They had lived in the home for 30 years but it was ruined in the quake and demolished several months later.

"We thought that it was a way to keep the memory alive," she said.

"When we first saw the model, it was quite an emotional moment. We felt that we had our house back."

The earthquake that struck Christchurch at 12.51pm on Feb 22, 2011, killed 185 people and destroyed much of the city. More than 10,000 homes were declared uninhabitable and ordered to be demolished, as well as 1,500 commercial buildings.

In the city centre, 80 per cent of the buildings - about 1,200 - were demolished. The cost of rebuilding has been estimated at NZ$40 billion (S$42.5 billion).

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