“You see on that corner, that’s part of the World Trade Center.” As we were in Christchurch, New Zealand, it turned out that our helpful airport driver was referring to some steel in a field. Rather meaningful steel in a field, and a piece of art which represents not only one of the greatest atrocities of recent years, but also indicates the desire to remember and commemorate by people all around the world.

Unveiled during the opening ceremonies of the World Firefighter’s Games VII (dubbed the Memorial Games) in October 2002, The Firefighters Reserve commemorates the the 343 FDNY firefighters who lost their lives when the towers collapsed, as well as the sacrifices of firefighters worldwide in service and duty.

The central point of the reserve, situated opposite the Central Fire Station and on the banks of the Avon River, is the 5.5 ton steel sculpture created from five steel girders. The material was salvaged from the site of the World Trade Center and gifted to the City of Christchurch in 2002 by the City of New York for use in a public art work to honor firefighters worldwide. Engraved is the simple text “A tribute to Firefighters.”

Designed by Christchurch artist Graham Bennett, the work is simple, stark, and highly emotive. One reason for this is the source of the materials. The suspended component or “spear,” in its red hot state, fell from the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center Tower Two, piercing the subway below. From the mountainous pile of twisted steel and smoking rubble and devastation  something beautiful and poignant has been created.

Christchurch has suffered its own tragedy as well. At lunchtime on 22nd February 2011 a 6.2 richter scale earthquake struck the city, killing 185 people. Rubble and scaffolding remain an all too familiar sight, and no-go zones continue to exist.

The old adage that from adversity comes great art has proved true, and there has been a swell of creativity in the city. Much of it aims to use materials from the somewhat obliterated buildings around the city, building something new whilst retaining a link to the past. The Christchurch ‘Red Zone’ saw more than 10,000 homes ‘red stickered,’ which means the owners can no longer reside there, and the houses are be demolished. This generates a vast amount of debris and material, and projects around the city have sought to reuse it.

The Whole House Reuse project has been created to celebrate the countless homes lost, by setting out to salvage the entire material of one modest red-zoned home in Christchurch, and asking designers and creators throughout the country to transform these materials into beautiful, purposeful works of art and practical objects.

Shedding light on the treatment of construction waste, the project reveals the breadth and depth of materials lost in the demolition of houses in post-earthquake Christchurch, and forces people to reconsider what qualifies as waste. More than being art, it stimulates new thought processes, and forces prompts to see what they may have once thought of as an eyesore in new ways – a kind of social history being evident in layers of wallpaper, flooring, renovated gardens and memories encapsulated within.

Associated is Rekindle, a social enterprise who use reclaimed wood from fallen buildings as the material for their jewellery, sculpture and home ware, and describe what they are doing as a “constructive response from within Christchurch as it remembers and rebuilds.” This idea of a constructive response is crucial, constructing from deconstruction in many ways

One could never say that disaster is a positive thing, but from the World Trade Center to Christchurch, a bond of rebuilding and remembrance has been forged. Both cities have found ways to cope through art, emotion and creativity, using salvaged materials to create links to the past and retaining memory in physical structures.