Arts Centre of Christchurch

1,3 Hereford Street, 2-28 Worcester Boulevard And 26 Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch

  • Arts Centre of Christchurch.
    Copyright: The Arts Centre. Date: 15/03/2017.
  • Arts Centre of Christchurch.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/09/2001.
  • Arts Centre of Christchurch.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/09/2001.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 7301 Date Entered 15th February 1990

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Extent of List Entry

All the buildings on the site between Rolleston Avenue and Hereford Street up to and including the former Physics and Botany buildings on Section 432, and between Rolleston Avenue and Worcester Boulevard up to and including the former Boys' High School, swimming pool site beneath the Craft Workshops and former Gymnasium/Academy theatre.

City/District Council

Christchurch City

Region

Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt Sects 425, 426, 427, 428, 429, 430, 431, 432, 433, 434, 435, 436, 437, 438, 439, 440, Town of Christchurch

Location description

Corner, Rolleston Avenue and Worcester Boulevard up to and including 28 Worcester Boulevard, and corner, Rolleston Avenue and Hereford Street up to and including Section 432 on Hereford Street.

Summaryopen/close

The Arts Centre in Christchurch is a collection of fine Gothic Revival buildings, formerly used by the Canterbury University College (now the University of Canterbury) and two of the city's secondary schools. Construction on the buildings for the Canterbury University College, which later became the University of Canterbury, began with the building of the Clock Tower block. This building, which opened in 1877 and was designed by Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort, was the first building in New Zealand to be designed specifically for a university. The Girls' High School building opened in the following year, designed by Thomas Cane, and two years later the Boys' High School on Worcester St was built. Other buildings followed as the University expanded. Both schools moved off the site, in 1881 and 1926 respectively, and their buildings were taken over by the university. North and south quadrangles were established with the building of the library in 1914-16. As part of Samuel Hurst Seager's scheme to link the disparate buildings of the University, cloisters and arcades were built to link the various buildings, with the library dividing the two quads. The last stone building to be built was the Engineering Block, now the Court Theatre, in 1923.

By the 1950s it was obvious that the town site was too small for the university and plans were made to move the University out to the suburb of Ilam. The Fine Arts department was the first to move in 1957 with Engineering following from 1959. By 1975 the entire University had migrated and the fate of the town buildings was under debate. Eventually the entire block of buildings were transferred to the Arts Centre of Christchurch Trust Board and are now used for a variety of arts-related activities.

Overall the style of the buildings is essentially High Victorian Collegiate Gothic and was based on old English college traditions. The buildings are significant in that they represent aspects of New Zealand's educational history, both tertiary and secondary. They illustrate the intention of the Canterbury settlers to create a colonial equivalent to Oxford and Cambridge. The buildings are also linked to significant developments in the arts and sciences. Ernest Rutherford, for example, was a student at Canterbury College and is now remembered by 'Rutherford's Den' in the Arts Centre. Many well-known New Zealand artists also trained at Canterbury including Evelyn Page, Rita Angus and William Sutton. Apirana Turupa Ngata, Ngati Porou leader and Member of Parliament, studied for his Bachelor of Arts at Canterbury from 1890 - 1893 and was the first Maori to complete a degree at a New Zealand university.

The Arts Centre complex was registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust/Pouhere Taonga, as a group in 1990 in order to recognise the historical and architectural importance of not just the individual buildings but the importance of the complex as a whole. It is significant as the site of one of the earliest of New Zealand's university colleges and as a splendid collection of Gothic Revival buildings designed by a variety of Canterbury architects. It now has an important role in Christchurch as a focal point for the city's art and crafts community.

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Historical Significance or Value

The clock Tower block was New Zealand's first permanent building designed specifically for university purposes. The first plans were drawn up in 1873 but financial restraints meant that they had to be much modified and building delayed. The intention was that the buildings would be a colonial equivalent of the "Christian" (i.e. Gothic) buildings of England, particularly the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge from where most of Canterbury's "founding fathers" had come (Gardner, 1972, pp.17-18). This illustrates well how the Canterbury Colonists continually looked back to "Home" (England) for inspiration.

The buildings illustrate educational aspects of New Zealand's history - not only of Canterbury College established as a college of the University of New Zealand in 1873 (High & 1927, p8) but also of the Girls' and Boys' High Schools in Christchurch, the first homes of those schools being now part of the Arts Centre complex.

Many major developments in the arts and sciences have also taken place within the buildings. Ernest Rutherford, for example, an illustrious student of Canterbury College remembered by a permanent display in "Rutherford's Den" at the Arts Centre.

In 1975 the Canterbury College buildings were taken over by the Arts Centre of Christchurch - the site remains a hive of activity, and the buildings a focal point for the arts and community service activity.

ARCHITECTURAL SIGNIFICANCE:

Given that they were built in a piecemeal fashion over many years, the final result of the buildings programme shows remarkable consistency. Until the second decade of the twentieth century the buildings on the site had made up a rather inharmonious medley of styles and materials.

The buildings designed specifically for the College are particularly significant in that one thinks of them as Gothic even though there is scarcely a pointed arch, the quintessential feature of medieval Gothic, to be found anywhere. The buildings are a kind of a historical Gothic. In selecting Gothic as the architectural style for Canterbury College, the ideals of the Canterbury Association Colonists were being maintained. Its models, Oxford and Cambridge, had played an important part in the Gothic Revival movement from the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Gothic was seen as reflecting historical, national (English), Christian, and social beliefs. As far as was possible within financial constraints the early College buildings were designed in accordance with Ecclesiological principles. By the twentieth century, however, architectural theory had changed somewhat and some of the later buildings do not adhere strictly to such principles.

The Great Hall is probably the best interpretation by B.W. Mountfort of Collegiate Gothic architecture, and as a group, the buildings are a particularly fine example of High Victorian architecture.

TOWNSCAPE/LANDMARK SIGNIFICANCE:

The precinctial character of this complex of consistent buildings is outstanding. The entire block with Canterbury Museum and Christ's College form a conservation area with a series of superb streetscapes.

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Armson, William Barnett

Armson (1832/3?-83) was born in England and emigrated to New Zealand with his family in around 1852. They shifted to Australia two years later and settled in Melbourne. Here Armson was articled to the architectural and civil engineering firm of Purchas and Swyer for a period of six years. He was trained in architecture, engineering and surveying.

Armson returned to New Zealand in 1862 during the Otago gold rushes. He was appointed architectural draughtsman in the Provincial Engineer's Department and was soon promoted to Assistant Architect. Made redundant in 1864, Armson practised in Dunedin before superiving construction of St Luke's Church at Oamaru in 1865.

Armson moved to Hokitika in 1866 and practised on his own account, designing a wide variety of buildings. These include bank branch offices in towns around the West Coast, and the Hokitika Town Hall (1869).

He moved to Christchurch in 1870 and it was here that he prospered as an architect. His buildings include the former Public Library (1875), the Bank of New Zealand, Lyttelton (1878), the Bank of New Zealand, Princes Street, Dunedin (1879), Christchurch Girls' High School (1880), St Mary's Church, Timaru (1880) as well as many shops and offices.

From 1870 until his death, Armson was unrivalled as a commercial architect in Christchurch. He was also known for his professionalism and in 1872 was one of the founding members of the Canterbury Association of Architects. The practice founded by Armson in 1870 continued as Collins Architects Limited.

Cane, Thomas Walter

Thomas Cane (1830-1905) was born in Brighton, Sussex. For many years he worked for Sir Gilbert Scott, the celebrated architect of London. Cane came to Lyttelton in 1874 and succeeded Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-1898) as Provincial Architect for Canterbury. He held this position until the abolition of the provinces in 1876, making his name as a Christchurch architect.

Cane was responsible for Corfe House at Christ's College and for Christchurch Girls' High School which became the School of Art, and later an extension of the University of Canterbury Library. Cane also achieved recognition as a landscape artist.

Collins & Harman

One of the two oldest architectural firms in New Zealand, Armson, Collins and Harman was established by William Barnett Armson in 1870. After serving his articles with Armson, John James Collins (1855-1933) bought the practice after the former's death in 1883 and subsequently took Richard Dacre Harman (1859-1927) into partnership four years later. Collins' son, John Goddard Collins (1886-1973), joined the firm in 1903. Armson, Collins and Harman was one of Christchurch's leading architectural practices in the early years of this century.

Notable examples of the firm's work include the Christchurch Press Building (1909), Nazareth House (1909), the former Canterbury College Students Union (1927), the Nurses Memorial Chapel at Christchurch Public Hospital (1927) and the Sign of the Takahe (1936). Their domestic work includes Blue Cliffs Station Homestead (1889) and Meadowbank Homestead, Irwell. In 1928 the firm's name was simplified to Collins and Harman and the firm continues today as Collins Architects Ltd.

With a versatility and competence that betrayed the practice's debt to Armson's skill and professionalism, Collins and Harman designed a wide variety of building types in a range of styles.

Mountfort, Benjamin Woolfield

Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-98) trained as an architect in England, in the office of Richard Cromwell Carpenter, a member of the Cambridge Camden Society (later the Ecclesiological Society). He arrived in Canterbury in 1850.

Mountfort was New Zealand's pre-eminent Gothic Revival architect and, according to architectural historian Ian Lochhead, 'did most to shape the architectural character of nineteenth-century Christchurch.' The buildings he designed were almost exclusively in the Gothic Revival style.

During his career he designed many churches and additions to churches; those still standing include the Trinity Congregational Church in Christchurch (1874), St Mary's Church in Parnell, Auckland and the Church of the Good Shepherd in Phillipstown, Christchurch (1884). In 1857 he became the first architect to the province of Canterbury. He designed the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings in three stages from 1858 to 1865. The stone chamber of this building can be considered the greatest accomplishment of his career. He was involved in many important commissions from the 1870s, including the Canterbury Museum (1869-82) and the Clock-tower Block on the Canterbury College campus (1876-77). He was also involved in the construction of Christchurch's Cathedral and made several major modifications to the original design.

Mountfort introduced a number of High Victorian elements to New Zealand architecture, such as the use of constructional polychromy, probably first used in New Zealand in the stone tower of the Canterbury Provincial Government Buildings (1859). Overall, his oeuvre reveals a consistent and virtually unerring application of Puginian principles including a commitment to the Gothic style, honest use of materials and picturesque utility. The result was the construction of inventive and impressive buildings of outstanding quality. He died in Christchurch in 1898. A belfry at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Phillipstown, the church he attended for the last ten years of his life, was erected in his honour.

Mountfort, Cyril Julian

C J Mountfort (1852-1920) was the second son of Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-1898), the notable nineteenth century Gothic Revival architect in New Zealand. He assisted in his father's practice in the 1880s and 1890s before taking over the practice after 1898.

C J Mountfort's architecture tended to resemble that of his father, although it was usually less successful. Two of his important ecclesiastical designs were those for the Church of St Luke The Evangelist, Christchurch (1908-9) and St John's Anglican Church, Hororata (1910).

Seager, Samuel Hurst

Seager (1855-1933) studied at Canterbury College between 1880-82. He trained in Christchurch in the offices of Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-1898) and Alfred William Simpson before completing his qualifications in London in 1884. In 1885, shortly after his return to Christchurch, he won a competition for the design of the new Municipal Chambers, and this launched his career.

Seager achieved renown for his domestic architecture. He was one of the earliest New Zealand architects to move away from historical styles and seek design with a New Zealand character. The Sign of the Kiwi, Christchurch (1917) illustrates this aspect of his work. He is also known for his larger Arts and Crafts style houses such as Daresbury, Christchurch (1899).

Between 1893 and 1903 Seager taught architecture and design at the Canterbury University College School of Art. He was a pioneer in town planning, having a particular interest in the "garden city" concept. Some of these ideas were expressed in a group of houses designed as a unified and landscaped precinct on Sumner Spur (1902-14). He became an authority on the lighting of art galleries. After World War I he was appointed by the Imperial War Graves Commission to design war memorials in Gallipoli, Belgium and France. In New Zealand he designed the Massey Memorial, Point Halswell, Wellington (1925).

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION (STYLE):

The buildings, grouped around and between a north quadrangle (36.6m x 32.33m) and south quadrangle (90.28m x 28.06m) are essentially high Victorian collegiate Gothic and based on the old English college traditions. Thus cab be seen in the eclectic medieval motifs used such as the quatrefoil ventilation openings, the striped voussoirs above windows and doors, the string causes and hood moulds, the crested gable roofs, and, in some of the buildings, the oriel windows and buttresses. The asymmetry of the buildings is characteristically Gothic, and the contrasting grey and white stone also typical of medieval buildings in England.

B.W. Mountfort established a High Victorian flavour in England the constructional polychromic red and white brick on the interior of the clock tower block and lecture block adjacent to the Great Hall. He introduced a number of motifs that were his own invention, e.g. the 'early English" - like mouldings with his characteristic chevron shaped motif in the corners in the upper windows of the clock tower block, the line of chevron shapes making up the cornice and the window composition of the Great Hall.

While the early, Mountfort buildings employ many early English or early French Gothic motifs, some of the later buildings erected have a more decorative and sometimes less serious feel (e.g. Chemical Laboratory). The use of later Gothic and Tudor forms Tudor arches, elaborate foliated finials, etc - (now Art Annex), the old Boys' High School Gymnasium (now Academy Theatre) and 1921-3 Engineering Block (now Court Theatre) suggests a kind of chronological development in construction.

Both the old Girls' and Boys' High School buildings employ several different motifs from Mountfort's Collegiate architecture but nevertheless harmonise well with those buildings. Simple early English Gothic pointed windows are used, there are crenellations above the entrances of both school buildings and flectres on their roofs.

The Clock Tower, old Biological Laboratory, old Physics Laboratory, Great Hall Fireplace, Old Girls' High School and old Boys' High School all feature carvings of the college shield. The shield contains a coat of arms of the Canterbury province, the upper part being a portion of the archiepiscopal see of Canterbury arms, and the lower representing Canterbury's interest in agriculture and pasture. (Press 28 March 1879).

Notable Features

Clock Tower Block, Great Hall, Hight Block, Old Art School, Old Chemistry Block, Collins Block, Centre Gallery, Scott Block, Engineering Block, Old Physics Block, Old Botany Block, Observatory Block, Academy Theatre, Old Boys High School, the Cloisters.

The ceiling of the large room on the lower level to the right from the main entrance of the clock tower block is made of a series of concrete arches supported by wrought springers - it was especially designed in this way for the prevention of overhead sound.

The Great Hall, with its dominant window on the north elevation and conical roofed staircase turret at the south-west end is also very striking on the interior. The "ridge and furrow' barrel-vaulted ceiling, for example, is made of carved alternating bands of rimu and kahikatea - a "mature" kind of constructional polychromy.

The Biological Laboratory building is interesting for its observatory tower with machicolations and revolving dome roof; for the spiral staircase rising beneath a pair of arches and the false tourrelle in the south-east corner facing the south quadrangle; and for the ornamental loop-hole in the form of a Latin cross on the east elevation chimney.

A notable feature of the large Engineering extension (1921-3) is the long Oamaru stone panel carved in a row of shields separating the upper and lower windows on the north and south elevations - this was a common feature of Tudor Gothic buildings. The buildings north-east corner joins at the old Boys' High School with a false crenellated tower.

Construction Dates

Modification
1915 - 1917
Electrical Laboratory (west side) and old School of Art buildings were stone-faced.

Modification
1938 -
The cathedral glass in the north window of the Great Hall was replaced by a war memorial stained glass.

Modification
1986 -
A glass entrance porch was attached to the old Hydraulics building for Court Theatre.

Original Construction
1876 - 1877
Clock Tower Block

Modification
1890 - 1891
Clock Tower Block

Original Construction
1876 - 1878
Old Girls' High School/School of Art

Modification
1893 -
Old Girls' High School/School of Art

Modification
1901 - 1902
Old Girls' High School/School of Art

Original Construction
1878 - 1879
Old Boys' High School - now Academy Theatre

Modification
1895 - 1896
Old Boys' High School - now Academy Theatre

Modification
1912 - 1913
Old Boys' High School - now Academy Theatre

Modification
1908 -
Old Boys' High School - now Academy Theatre

Original Construction
1881 - 1882
Great Hall Blocks

Modification
1887 - 1888
Great Hall Blocks

Modification
1915 - 1917
Great Hall Blocks

Original Construction
1895 - 1896
Old Biology & Observatory

Modification
1917 - 1918
Old Biology & Observatory

Original Construction
1901 - 1902
Electrical Laboratory

Original Construction
1905 - 1910
Hydraulics Laboratory and Engineering (now Court Theatre)

Modification
1913 - 1914
Hydraulics Laboratory and Engineering (now Court Theatre)

Modification
1921 - 1923
Hydraulics Laboratory and Engineering (now Court Theatre)

Original Construction
1908 - 1910
Chemical Laboratory

Original Construction
1914 - 1915
Old College Library

Original Construction
1915 - 1917
Old Physics

Original Construction
1915 - 1917
Common Room & Lavatory Block

Original Construction
1915 - 1917
Arcades

Modification
1878 - 1879
Clock Tower Block, eastern wing additions adjacent to clock tower to the east.

Construction Details

Most of the buildings are constructed of stone-faced brick. The stone used is mostly Port Hills Basalt or Halswell Basalt, and the facings Oamaru Stone. The limestone facings on the Clock Tower Block (1876-7) were originally from Coal Creek, Pleasant Point but their rapid deterioration necessitated their replacement with Oamaru stone in the 1890s. The entrance columns of Armson's Boys' High School building are made of porphyry and the Chemical Laboratory has Timaru basalt steps with Hoon Hay basalt entrance columns. The east wall of the old Electrical Laboratory, and south and west walls of the old Hydraulics laboratory remain unfaced plain red brick. The roofs are slate.

Completion Date

20th August 2001

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Strange, 1994

Glyn Strange, The Arts Centre of Christchurch, Then and Now, Christchurch, 1994

Other Information

Holmes Consulting received a Structural Heritage Commendation for their work to repair, restore, strengthen and conserve Christchurch Arts Centre Block C (including the Great Hall and Clock Tower) at the 2017 Institution of Structural Engineers' (IStructE) Structural Awards. The post-earthquake restoration of the Clock Tower (1877) and Great Hall (1882) was also awarded a Gold Award of Excellence at this year's Association of Consulting Engineerings New Zealand INNOVATE Awards, and an Award of Merit in the prestigious UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.