Whoever's renting wire-mesh fencing in Christchurch must be smiling all way to the money machine. Thousands of panels still line the inner-city red zones, and it doesn't look like they'll be disappearing any time soon.
The stuff has a practical purpose, sure. But across the last twenty-one months it's also turned into something of a symbol of post-earthquake Christchurch – the butt-ugly emblem of an inner-city that's either off-limits or under destruction.
Plenty of people have had a go at enlivening these grim barriers, often by threading coloured plastic and other bright bits of stuff through the readymade weave of the wire (in the one seen here, from St Asaph Street, the weaving nicely imitates pixels).
But, since the folk renting all that fencing must be doing pretty well by now, perhaps they could start looking into some beautification strategies of their own.
We tend to think of beauty and decorative life as things that creative types add to our broken-down cityscape after the fact. Artists, in this sense, are the red cross teams of our visual battleground, sent in after the damage is done to apply a few restorative patches of colour, wit and beauty. But what if industrial designers saw humour and beauty as part of their mission from the outset? What would it look like if intricacy and exuberance were woven into the red-zone fences from the beginning, rather than pinned on or woven in later?
There's an answer on view in the permanent collection of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, where I recently encountered this 'Panneau Lace Fence' from 2007 by the amazing Dutch design collective Demakersvan. Recasting the Dutch love of crocheted doilies in shit-kickingly tough materials, these panels would make the perfect adornment for our new urban environment, where industrial bleakness is constantly tangling with unexpected moments of beauty.
I wondered, of course, whether the panels were boutique items – more likely to be found in a design-firm's foyer or art-collector's loft than a dusty streetscape. But there they were one day later on the back of a flat-deck truck in central Paris: a rack of heavy-metal doilies, ready to roll out and decorate the streetscape.