Christ's College open air classrooms

33 Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch

  • Christ's College open air classrooms, Christchurch.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.
  • Christ's College Open Air Classrooms.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: B Carr. Date: 21/02/2011.
  • Original image submitted at time of registration.
    Copyright: NZHPT Field Record Form Collection. Taken By: Pam Wilson.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3282 Date Entered 26th November 1981


City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt Res 25 (CT CB436/70), Canterbury Land District


Built in 1929-30, the Christ’s College Open Air classrooms are historically and architecturally significant as part of the development of, and response to, designs for educational buildings at this historic private school. They reflect the emphasis educational theorists at the time were placing on the health benefits derived from maximum exposure to fresh air and sunshine. Although subsequently modified, they remain a notable example of this type of plan.

An integral part of the Canterbury Association settlement, Christ’s College is the oldest school in Christchurch, and was modelled on the public schools of England. Founded in 1850, it relocated from Lyttelton to Christchurch in 1852 and was established on its present Rolleston Avenue site in 1856. Many of the college’s early timber buildings were gradually replaced by ones in permanent materials. Classroom blocks range from the early days of the school’s establishment through to the present time. The oldest surviving classroom block at the site is Christ’s College Big School, which was constructed in 1863, and latterly has been used as a library. In 1886 Benjamin W Mountfort designed a two-storeyed block of classrooms (now Harper House and Julius House). A block of classrooms (built 1915-21, now demolished) designed by Cecil Wood followed. A major change in concept is evident in a subsequent block built in 1930, also to Wood’s designs, containing six ‘open-air’ classrooms with north-facing folding doors to provide fresh air and access to balconies.

Situated at the west side of the college site, behind the main quadrangle and overlooking the sports field, Christ’s College Open Air Classrooms is a two and a half storeyed block constructed of brick and concrete and with a slate roof. Rectangular in plan, with an apse-like annex at the west end, the building has a hipped roof and dormers and large north-facing windows. A semi-underground basement runs the length of the building and housed the carpenter’s workshop. Having the basement partly above ground level served to elevate the two floors of teaching rooms so as to ensure they were well lit even in midwinter.

In 1950-51, architect Robert Munro added four further classrooms to the east of Wood’s original six, continuing the same open air design. Alterations by Sir Miles Warren in 1987 resulted in the enclosure of the balconies to create extra classroom space. Christ’s College Open Air Classrooms have been renovated and extensively strengthened on the interior with exposed steel diagonal bracing, following the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-11.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Wood, Cecil Walter

Born in Christchurch, Wood (1878-1947) was articled to the local architect Frederick Strouts between 1894 and 1899. He worked for a short time as a draughtsman with the firm Clarkson and Ballantyne before travelling to England in 1901. Here Wood was exposed to a high quality of architectural design in the Edwardian Free Style, and was employed by two leading Edwardian architects Robert Weir Shultz and Leonard Stokes.

In 1907 Wood returned to New Zealand to take up partnership with Samuel Hurst Seager. The partnership lasted for only one year for Wood set up his own practice in 1908. The years 1908-1915 were dominated by domestic commissions, but it was also during this time that he began his association with Christ's College, which included such commissions as Hare Memorial Library (1915), the Memorial Dining Hall (1923-5), Jacob's House (1931) and Open Air Classrooms (1932). During the 1920s Wood's practice began to expand and a Georgian influence can be seen in such works as Weston House Park Terrace (1923-4) and Bishopscourt (1926-7).

A short lived partnership in 1927 with R S D Harman allowed Wood to travel to the United States while another in 1937 with Paul Pascoe allowed him to travel to England, Europe and the United States without neglecting his practice. During this second trip he made preparations for the design of St Paul's Anglican Cathedral in Wellington, which was erected after his death.

During his life Wood had made a substantial contribution to the architecture of Christchurch, having an enthusiasm for both European and American styles.

Robert C. Munro

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1929 - 1930
Construction of Christ’s College Open Air Classrooms (six classrooms)

1950 - 1951
Addition of four further open air classrooms at east end

1987 -
Enclosure of balconies

Structural upgrade
2012 -
Renovation and Seismic strengthening

Completion Date

10th March 2017

Report Written By

Robyn Burgess

Information Sources

Hamilton, 1991 (2)

D Hamilton, Wells, R. The Buildings of Christ's College 1850-1990 Christchurch, 1991.

Teal, 2012

Jane Teal, ‘The OA’s’, In Back and White, No. 30, 1 May 2012: URL

Other Information

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Southern Region Office of Heritage New Zealand.