Arts Centre of Christchurch Old Student Union Building (University of Canterbury Former)

Montreal Street And Hereford Street, Christchurch

  • Arts Centre of Christchurch Old Student Union Building (University of Canterbury Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/09/2001.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/09/2001.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/09/2001.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4907 Date Entered 26th November 1981 Date of Effect 26th November 1981


City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt Sect 420 and Pt Sect 422 (CB20K/474), Part Sec 424 (CB364/262)


The Dux de Lux was originally a domestic building built in 1883 by Francis William Petre for John Lewis, a Christchurch merchant. Petre is primarily remembered as designer of various South Island basilicas, including the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch.

The house is situated in the southeast corner of the block bounded by Hereford Street, Montreal Street, Worcester Street and Rolleston Avenue, which was the site of the University of Canterbury from 1872 until the mid 1970s. It was occupied for a time by Dr Charles Chilton, lecturer in biology. The University of Canterbury bought it in 1926 and from 1929 it became the home of the Students' Association until the University moved to the suburb of Ilam during the early 1970s. It is now used as a bar and restaurant.

This house is significant as an example of Petre's domestic work and because of its role as the centre for the Canterbury Students' Association for over forty years. The building was felt by many previous students to be a vital element of the university community. It is now a well-known bar and band venue and part of the Arts Centre complex.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This building is significant as part of the history of the University of Canterbury, which was established as the second College of the University of New Zealand in 1872. The building has particular significance as part of the history of the Students' Association, now a national organisation.

This building is significant as an example of Francis Petre's domestic work. Petre is well-known for his use of concrete and his design of various significant ecclesiastical buildings. The former Students' Association building, built of brick and timber, is important because it expands our knowledge of Petre's work.

It is also part of the Arts Centre complex, formerly the University of Canterbury and is unique among those buildings, which are predominately stone buildings and Victorian Gothic in style.

The building has a cultural significance as the home for the Students' Association for many years. It was considered by former students to be the heart of the University. The public esteem it was held in can be seen by the struggle to save both it and the Registry building after the University vacated the site in the 1970s.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in NZ history

The place is associated with a well-known architect, Francis Petre, with the first rector in Australasia, Dr Charles Chilton, and with the University of Canterbury Students' Association. Students' Associations nationally have played a major role in the history of New Zealand universities as advocates for students.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

The building was considered by former students to be the heart of the University. It has now been associated with a popular and well-known bar for twenty-five years.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

The earliest part of this building is a early New Zealand example of the architectural style known as the English Domestic Revival or the English Cottage style. This became more popular in the early twentieth century.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical cultural complete or historical and cultural landscape

This building forms part of the Arts Centre complex, a significant historical and cultural complex of buildings in Christchurch. Today the Arts Centre functions as a centre for arts and crafts in the city.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Petre, Francis William

Petre (1847-1918) was born in Lower Hutt. He was the son of the Hon. Henry William Petre and grandson of the eleventh Baron Petre, Chairman of the second New Zealand Company. Petre trained in London as a naval architect, engineer, and architect, returning to New Zealand in 1872. During the next three years he was employed by Brogden and Sons, English railway contractors, superintending the construction of the Dunedin-Clutha and the Blenheim-Picton railways.

He set up office in Dunedin in 1875 as an architect and civil engineer. He designed a house for Judge Chapman (1875), followed by 'Cargill's Castle' (1876) for E B Cargill and then St Dominic's Priory (1877), all in mass concrete.

It is for his church designs and for his pioneering use of concrete that Petre is most recognised. His church buildings include St Joseph's Cathedral, Dunedin (1878-86), Sacred Heart Basilica (now Cathedral of the Sacred Heart), Wellington (1901), St Patrick's Basilica, Oamaru, (1894 and 1903) and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch, (1904-05), which is the outstanding achievement of his career. Petre's commercial buildings include the Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance Building (1881-82) and Pheonix House (now Airport House, c.1885), both in Dunedin.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

This house was built in 1883 for John Lewis, a Christchurch merchant. It was designed by Francis Petre, and is a Tudor style house with half timbering on the upper storey. Lewis called it 'Llanmaes', Welsh for 'the church in the meadow'. In 1899 the house was purchased by Dr Colin Graham Campbell who sold it to Dr Charles Chilton in 1904.

Chilton lived in the house until 1911 and was an important figure at Canterbury University College. He was the first rector to be appointed in Australasia and held the position from 1921-1928. In 1888 he became the first person to gain a BSc in New Zealand and was the chair of biology at Canterbury since 1903, with a particular interest in crustacea. He also studied medicine at Edinburgh and specialised in ophthalmic surgery.Chilton sold the house to Eliza Vincent and, in 1926, after Eliza's death, the University purchased it.

Canterbury University College had been established since 1872, initially as a college of the University of New Zealand. As with Otago, women were admitted alongside men. The first building of the University was the Clock Tower designed by Benjamin Mountfort in 1875-1876. Mountfort also designed the Great Hall in 1882, whilst various significant Canterbury architects (Thomas Cane, William Armson, Collins and Harman) designed other buildings for the College over the years. Samuel Hurst Seager was responsible for linking the various buildings with arcades or cloisters in 1914-1916. Llanmaes was the last of the buildings in the block bounded by Hereford, Montreal, and Worcester Streets and Rolleston Ave to be purchased by the University and in 1929 it became the premises of the Students' Association.

The Canterbury Students' Association began in 1894. Before this, a variety of other societies and clubs had existed but there was no one overriding organisation that could speak for students as a whole. One of the issues the Association immediately took up was that of space for students to meet. Various attempts had already been made over the years to provide common room space and by 1921 a tearoom had opened in the top of the physics building. It proved very popular, although not financially profitable.

However, the Students' Association viewed the tearoom only as a temporary measure and continued to promote the idea of one building that would meet all the needs of students and their clubs. A competition was held to design such a building and was won by Mr V. R. J. Hearn. Hearn's design featured a large hall in keeping with the Gothic style of the University and was estimated to cost £30,000. Despite various attempts to raise the money, after seven years the Student Association's building fund stood at only £3,400. Therefore a decision was made in 1928 to look for a temporary building. When asked for help, the University Board came up with two possibilities, a new building or the adaptation of 'Llanmaes'. Although the Students' Association initially rejected the concept of re-using 'Llanmaes', the University proceeded to do just that, extending the plan to include a staff common room in the same building. Ultimately this inclusion of staff in the Students' Association building led to a closeness between staff and students that many remember as one of the positive aspects of the University. Extensions to Llanmaes were built in 1928-9 to a design by Collins and Harman, which followed Petre's original concept.

Described as a 'students' paradise' when it opened on 5 October 1929, the building was furnished by donations from firms and individuals. A committee was established to run the building with representatives from the Association, staff and University Board, and the costs of running the building were covered by an increase of five shillings in association fees. The building instantly became the centre of University social life and Canta, the student newspaper, had its beginnings there.

In 1946 rumours were heard that the Students' Asssociation building was to be demolished. A petition of 900 signatories protesting against the proposed demolition was sent to the University Council and then to the Minister of Education, H.G.R. Mason. Mason replied that the building would only be demolished as a last resort.

Whilst the immediate threat of demolition was removed the possibility of moving the entire University to the suburb of Ilam now came to the forefront. In 1949 the Students' Association formally gave its support to the shift and established a sub-committee to look into the facilities that would be needed on the new campus. However, the pressure of growing student numbers in town meant that in 1954-55 the building fund was used for further extensions to the existing building rather than new facilities at Ilam. Before the building of the extensions could start a fire in late 1954 damaged much of the interior and redecorating was needed.

With the remainder of the University moving to Ilam in the early 1970s, the Students' Association building was initially under threat (as were all the buildings on the site). In 1973 the University's plan was to sell off those buildings at the eastern end of the block (including the Students' Association building) to fund the preservation of the various stone buildings, which were seen as more historically significant. A number of organisations protested against this idea, including the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, and in 1974 a feasibility study on the use of the entire block as an Arts Centre was done. This included the use of the Students' Association building by the Aged People Welfare group, and as a restaurant. The idea of preserving the entire block was accepted and The Arts Centre of Christchurch Trust was formally established in December 1978. Since then the building has been leased and used as a restaurant and bar.

Physical Description

The building has both single and double storey wings. The lower storey is brick; the upper plaster and timber. The roof is slate and the window frames are wooden. In style it is Tudor influenced, part of what Jeremy Salmond refers to as the 'English Cottage style', which became more popular in New Zealand after 1910. This style is characterised by a change in wall covering that marks a change in floor level, and the timber work on the upper level. Brick arches, such as those on the north and south entrances of this building are also typical.

A newspaper article of 1929 describing the opening of the Students' Association building stated that it was panelled in rimu throughout to a height of seven and a half feet, and wallpapered in 'quiet shades'. The building was entirely steam heated and there was a well-equipped tearoom and kitchen, with a marble slab bench. The staffroom had bay windows, window seats, oak desks and 'thick pile carpets', notably different from the rubber matting in the rest of building. The women students had a large room with electric lights and the original fireplace still intact. There were showers provided for both sexes heated by gas. [The Press, 5 Oct 1929, p.12.]

Notable Features

Stained glass windows: Three large panels of stained glass in the porch, which depict fruit and flowers. Three small stained glass fanlights in restaurant's manager's room, which depict birds. All are painted, stained and fired and are considered by stained glass expert Fiona Ciaran to be of exceptionally fine craftsmanship.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1883 -

1928 - 1929
Collins and Harman. Low brick walls were built around the street frontage at this time

1955 - 1956
Addition to dining room and three meeting rooms upstairs

Construction Details

Brick, timber, asbestos slate.

Completion Date

17th October 2001

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Ian J. Lochhead, 'Petre, Francis William 1847-1918', Volume 2, 1870 - 1900', Wellington, 1993, pp.383-384; R.L.C. Pilgrim, 'Chilton, Charles 1860-1929', Vol 3, 1901-1920, Auckland, 1996, pp.97-98.

Salmond, 1986

Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen

Sharfe, 1995

Jean Sharfe, Players, Protesters and Politicians. A History of the University of Canterbury Students' Association, Christchurch, 1995

Shaw, 1997 (2003)

Peter Shaw, A History of New Zealand Architecture, Auckland, 1997

Strange, 1994

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

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.