Christchurch Arts Centre

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Christchurch Arts Centre
CanterburyCollegeChemistry gobeirne.jpg
Old Chemistry building (1910)
Map of Christchurch Central City
Map of Christchurch Central City
Location within the Christchurch Central City
Former names Canterbury College
General information
Type various uses
Coordinates Coordinates: 43°31′53.33″S 172°37′41.64″E / 43.5314806°S 172.6282333°E / -43.5314806; 172.6282333
Inaugurated 1870s (first part of building)
Design and construction
Architect Benjamin Mountfort
Samuel Hurst Seager
Designated 15 February 1990
Reference no. 7301

The Christchurch Arts Centre was a hub for arts, crafts and entertainment in Christchurch, New Zealand, it is located in the neo-gothic former University of Canterbury buildings, the majority of which were designed by Benjamin Mountfort. The 23 heritage buildings are covered by three separate listings by Heritage New Zealand, two of which are Category I.

Following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, the complex was closed for major repairs. More than half the site will be progressively re-opening through 2016.[1]


The Arts Centre comprises 23 heritage buildings, the Student Union building was registered on 26 November 1981 and is a Category II entry.[2] All buildings of the Arts Centre on the western half of the site were registered as heritage buildings by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust on 15 February 1990 with registration number 7301 classified as A and B. With the change of the classification system, the buildings later became a Category I listing,[3][4] the Registry Building in the north-east corner of the site was registered on 13 February 1997 and is a Category I listing.[5]

The buildings are also listed in the Christchurch City Plan as heritage items; in the previous plan, twenty buildings were listed as Group 1 or 2, and three buildings were listed as Group 3. The only modern building on the site, built in 1957 and extended in 1967, is an extension to the registry building facing Montreal Street; this was not listed under the old city plan, but it was proposed by the city council to include it in the listing with the historic registry building.[6]


Before the earthquakes, the centre included speciality shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, galleries, theatres and cinemas, the Court Theatre is a professional theatre company founded in 1971 and was based at the Arts Centre from 1976 until 2010.

The Twelve Local Heroes is a series of bronze busts located on Worcester Boulevard outside the Arts Centre to commemorate twelve local Christchurch people who were prominent in their respective fields in the latter part of the 20th century.


Arts Centre of Christchurch Incorporated was created in 1974, when the University completed its move to the new Ilam campus, and ownership of the site was transferred in 1978.

The Christchurch Arts Centre is governed by a trust board.

The Great Hall (1882)
Entrance to the Great Hall
North Quadrangle (1877)

Return of the university[edit]

In 2009 strong debate emerged over a proposal to use the Arts Centre car park located off Hereford Street for a School of Music for the University of Canterbury. Proponents valued the additional vibrancy that this would bring into the Cultural Precinct, and supported the university moving back to their original site. Opponents felt that the proposed building was out of scale with the existing Arts Centre and that the building design would detract from the heritage value.[7][8][8][9] Ultimately the proposal was abandoned after a successful campaign by Save our Arts Centre, a group led by Richard Sinke.[10]

In May 2017, the university opened two departments in the restored old chemistry building – the classics and music school, some 400 students will transfer from Ilam campus to the central city facility.[10]

2010 earthquake damage[edit]

In the early hours of 4 September 2010, a major earthquake caused extensive damage throughout the region, the arts centre buildings suffered serious damage; collapsing chimneys damaged the great hall, the observatory and the clock tower. Arts Centre director Ken Franklin commented that prior measures taken to reinforce the buildings may have prevented additional damage,[11] the buildings had been insured for NZ$95m, and this was increased to NZ$120m in January 2011.[12]

2011 earthquake damage[edit]

The Arts Centre was very badly damaged in the 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake. All historic buildings are inaccessible to the public and the entire complex was closed for the foreseeable future. Nobody died in the Arts Centre. There is a general commitment to rebuild and repair most buildings, with the possible exception of the Observatory Tower, which completely collapsed.[12]

Earthquake recovery[edit]

It was initially estimated the cost to repair the Arts Centre would be NZ$100m,[12][13] this was later revised to more than NZ$200m and estimated to take 15 years to accomplish. In July 2012, it was announced that André Lovatt had been secured as its new chief executive, tasking him with the restoration project; Lovatt started in October 2012.[14] Under Lovatt's guidance, the programme was accelerated with completion in 2019, based on the premise that construction costs are rising fast and the sooner work can be finished, the lower the overall costs, with the scope becoming better known, the costs escalated to NZ$290m, though.[15] This makes it one of the largest heritage restoration projects worldwide.[6]

The first buildings to reopen were the registry extension, the historic registry building, and the gymnasium,[16] the Great Hall opened in June 2016.

Businesses are beginning to return, the weekend market has returned in the summer; and the centre is again the site of festivals and special events.[1]


  1. ^ a b "Creating Futures", The Arts Centre
  2. ^ "Dux de Lux". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 3 June 2011. 
  3. ^ "Arts Centre of Christchurch". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
  4. ^ Cattell, John (1988). Historic Buildings of Canterbury and South Canterbury. Wellington: Government Printing Office Publishing. pp. 7, 19. ISBN 0-477-01329-5. 
  5. ^ "Registry Building (Former)". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 2 July 2016. 
  6. ^ a b Lovatt, André. "Evidence of André Lovatt on behalf of The Arts Centre of Christchurch Trust Board". Independent Hearings Panel. Retrieved 2 July 2016. 
  7. ^ University of Canterbury information on the music school proposal. Retrieved on 9 July 2011.
  8. ^ a b Website opposing inappropriate development of the heritage area
  9. ^ Matthews, Philip (20 February 2010). "A return to the fray". Christchurch: The Press. pp. C2–3. 
  10. ^ a b Redmond, Adele (20 May 2017). "Student sounds return to city". The Press. p. A7. Retrieved 20 May 2017. 
  11. ^ VAN BEYNEN, MARTIN (5 September 2010). "Quake devastates Christchurch's heritage". The Press. Retrieved 6 September 2010. 
  12. ^ a b c Gates, Charlie (15 March 2011). "Rebuilding Christchurch Arts Centre may take years, cost $100m". The Press. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  13. ^ "Terrible blow, but it will be rebuilt". The Press. 15 March 2011. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  14. ^ "New arts centre CEO to lead $200m project". The Press. 11 July 2012. Retrieved 2 July 2016. 
  15. ^ Dalley, Joelle (26 October 2012). "Arts Centre set to host summer market stalls". The Press. Retrieved 15 March 2013. 
  16. ^ Stylianou, Georgina (13 May 2016). "Arts Centre bouncing back in 2016". The Press. p. A3. Retrieved 2 July 2016. 

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