Architect Pedals People Power
Nic Sewell, NZIA Registered Architect, is based in our Christchurch studio. Father of Hunter (pictured with Nic below) and with another baby on the way, Nic also finds time to help out at RAD Bikes where he assists with ‘recycling a dunger’; getting people moving on their bikes. Nic has been working with Herriot Melhuish O’Neill Architects since 2011, when he and wife Jess, also an architect, returned from overseas and a period of WWOOF-ing. They were eager to make a difference for post-quake Christchurch. Nic is certainly doing that, we asked him more…
The RAD Bikes project was initially set up by another post-quake community project, Gap Filler. A small, energetic group of people got together to reactivate the city; make things happen for the people of Christchurch.
My brother Richard was part of Gap Filler and, at the time, the group seemed like one of the only sparks in the dusty city. Richard had been thinking about a ‘bike kitchen’ and he got Gap Filler support for the project. I initially only got involved with the design of the shed. We built it with volunteer help and I have been inextricably tied-in ever since.
Traditional development is finally catching up with Gap Filler so it will be interesting to see what direction they take now. Gap Filler has recently put a proposal to Fletchers for community group inclusion in the government-led east frame residential development. I really hope they continue to extend their influence and ambitions—Gap Filler’s contacts and support are a real benefit to projects like RAD.
What do you do now for RAD?
I get down to the workshop about once a week and the most rewarding aspect is helping people make relatively basic repairs that completely change the way their bike performs. My skills as a bike mechanic have improved immeasurably since we first opened, we used to do most repairs with a can of CRC and a hammer! We still encourage experimentation but our standards are certainly improving.
I’m also a member of the RAD Trust Board, formed to access funding and keep an eye on the long-term development.
Why did you become an architect?
There were no epiphanies or monumental life changing experiences that led me here. A couple of good family friends were architects and when I was a kid, I thought they and their houses were pretty cool. I also really like building things with Lego, I even said that in my application to architecture school.
What do you think about Christchurch director Duval O'Neill gaining naming rights on the business?
It’s great recognition for all the work Duval has done here, and nice to have a part of the company name in the office. Will still have to spell it out on the phone though…
How is it going in the Christchurch studio?
We have a great space and all work closely together, and I think a big part of what makes it work is the informality and freedom. I like the open and collaborative working environment.
What do you think about Christchurch's redevelopment so far?
The key idea in the blueprint is spot-on: get more people living in the city. Most criticism and problems seem to stem from the process, a lack of engagement and superficial consultation.
I am optimistic about the residential development in the east frame though, and hoping that will put to rest all the cynicism about residential development throughout the rest of the city. The blueprint has had a lot of negativity and it’s easy to understand a business owner’s frustrations after the quakes, feeling ‘bullied’ by central government. Smaller businesses enrich the urban environment too and should be kept wherever possible.
I don’t think it's peculiar to Christchurch, but often the central city is seen as a ‘destination’, somewhere you go for an event and then go home again. We need more life in our cities all the time, not just for special occasions.