In the year 2000, David McKenzie of Opus Consultants led the streetscape design for the upgrade of the Fairlie Main Street. The removal of the railway line had left a redundant piece of hardstand widening an already over wide street. David’s design eschewed the trend of the time to follow overseas fashions (such as brick coloured paving), embellishments or gimmicks, and instead created an improved area which subtlety referenced the surrounding landscape context with stones and simple paving insets. The street was narrowed, a leafy ambiance created, and the existing shops were now part of a welcoming environment.
Twenty-one years later: Fairlie has not just aged well, it has become an iconic and must-do stop for travellers heading south. The streetscape has supported development of a new shopping square, and overall supports a number of great retail and food outlets. The famous Fairlie Bakehouse is a key stop for any traveller, with the urban design contributing in no small part to the pleasantness of it. At a time when many rural towns are suffering, Fairlie continues to attract new businesses.
The Fairlie Mainstreet recently featured in “Neat Places” (a website, app and social media outlet profiling the coolest spots in NZ), with profiles on several of the businesses: “Perhaps the cutest little town in the Mackenzie District, Fairlie is that perfect stop-over spot on your journey through South Canterbury, as well as a destination in its own right. The tree-lined streets of the town center are dotted with historical buildings and friendly locals stop for a chat on street corners.”
Back in 2000, the street was smart and innovative, with sympathetic materiality and bold planting palettes (including native brooms as street trees). In 2021 it is remarkably unworn, bustling, busy, and continuing to attract passersby and support locals.
The Fairlie Main Street project is one which epitomises an enduring design. The project has a sense of timelessness, lending a feeling of age and history that anchors it to the landscape. It is a robust design which is purposeful but retains a light touch. This continues to enable the heart of the township of Fairlie to evolve. The use of stonework has been extended throughout the town, creating a sense of coherence, while referencing the character of the local landscape.
The project has endured in a way that many main street projects from the 1980s and 1990s have not. Its materiality and modest scale speak quietly in terms of local identity, while resonating with the environment and enhancing a sense of place. Over time, the design has melded with place, and reveals the actions of time as patina and moss cover the stonework. The ambition to build in stone, rather than less enduring materials, is fundamental to the Fairlie Mainstreet project’s success.
The landscape elements are of a scale that are welcoming and engaging, while the ongoing care of the gardens and the addition of some newer elements reflect the sense of care and involvement that permeates the village. The relationship with the wider landscape is clear. When leaving Fairlie, visitors pass by riverbeds of the same stone employed in the township’s main street, underscoring the specific response to the environment.