Pallet Pavilion was a temporary, visually engaging community events venue built by volunteers in a post-disaster city.

From September 2010 to February 2011, a series of earthquakes struck the city of Christchurch and its surrounding areas. It was estimated that over 80 percent of the buildings in the city center were destroyed, with repair costs over $40 billion.

In response to the first earthquake in September 2010, Coralie Winn, an arts coordinator, and Dr. Ryan Reynolds, a lecturer in theatre and film studies at the University of Canterbury, formed Gap Filler, a multidisciplinary team of creative professionals dedicated to reactivating the growing number of vacant sites left by the devastating earthquake, with temporary, transitional, community-based and socially engaged projects.

Pallet Pavilion was an open-air community gathering space, built using more than 3,000 wooden blue CHEP pallets and additional donated, loaned, and repurposed materials. It was located on the former site of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the center of Christchurch. The pavilion was designed to support a variety of cultural and social programs, and was home to more than 250 events during its existence.

It took an estimated 150 or more people and 2,500 hours of skilled and unskilled labor to build the pavilion in six weeks, engaging volunteers aged 16 to 65. More than 55 community partners and sponsors are acknowledged on the pavilion website. Site amenities included food and drink vendors, security, power, site maintenance, audio-visual equipment, an on-site administration team, toilets, and waste collection. From December 2012 to April 2013, an estimated 25,000 people participated as visitors, volunteers, vendors, and performers.

In May 2013, Gap Filler launched a crowd-funding campaign to extend the life of the Pallet Pavilion. They successfully raised NZ$82,000 to cover the pavilion’s operational costs for an additional year. Then, in April 2014, the pavilion was deconstructed.

The site continues to be known as “The Commons” and is now home to a handful of post-quake organizations. The site continues to support transitional projects and is governed by an evolving set of aspirations for the site.

Pallet Pavilion may be understood as a temporary, community-based, socially engaged public art installation. The project transformed a prominent city center site devastated by the earthquakes into a much-needed gathering space to welcome residents and businesses back into the area.

By Elisa Yon for Public Art Review.

From Public Art Review #52, where this article originally appeared in a feature on the 2nd International Award for Public Art.