The design reacts to the unique condition of the site, a peaceful natural area at the heart of Christchurch city center. It amplifies this contrast by introducing a set of empty boxes in the middle of the Avon River. This creates voids underneath the water level, and their emptiness symbolizes the emotional and human vacuum left after the earthquakes.
The design acts on the tension between presence and absence, physically and symbolically. It offers various levels of visibility of the memorial from different angles. Seen from Oxford Terrace or from the interior spaces, the inconspicuous presence of the boxes above water level and their minimalistic design represent the contrast to the powerful action of hollowing the river. It dismantles the relation between ground and water level, as if questioning its own stability.
The memorial is consists of four main elements:
- Entrance Ramp - Descends into the ground of the southern riverbank, offering gradual transition from the city into the memorial, from daylight to darkness.
- Foyer – an underwater passage leading into the heart of the memorial with general information and exhibits. 185 openings at the foyer's ceiling offer a glance at the river above and the sunlight transformed by the water.
- Open Terrace – with stairs going up towards a unique view of the river at eye level, allowing a quiet place of reflection for visitors, or acting as an open auditorium for presentations and group discussions.
- Remembrance Hall – a formal space with the victims’ names. A long and narrow box, with tilted inner walls and sloping floor which goes deeper into the river and amplifies the sense of perspective. The space ends in front of the 'weeping wall', a water feature of 185 streams of water pouring out from the wall, as if questioning its stability.
Trails and stairs that lead to the ramp element connect it to Oxford’s terrace and existing riverside pathway and preserve its free and strolling nature. Benches and treads at the edge of Oxford’s Terrace offer its local extensions in favor of relaxed observation points towards the memorial.