The University’s distinctive architectural style was established by renowned New Zealand architect Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort. The buildings are typical of the Gothic Revival period of architecture, a nineteenth century style which attempted to revive the forms and details of the original Gothic style of the Middle Ages. Almost all of the buildings in the Arts Centre complex were in place by the time of Canterbury College’s 50th Jubilee in 1923. The architectural unity of the site is remarkable in view of the fact that the buildings had been assembled over the span of half a century and were designed by six different architectural practices. This cohesion of style was due primarily to architect Samuel Hurst Seager, who in 1913 persuaded the Board of Governors to accept his "grand design" for two quadrangles on either side of the new library, and for the buildings to be linked by the arcades that have become a much-admired feature of the site. The style of the College was based on the Oxbridge model of academic buildings surrounding cloistered quadrangles.
After the Depression and the Second World War, no further Gothic buildings were constructed and from this point on, the site became more and more disfigured to cope with the huge roll increases. Minor alterations and additions were made, as well as the erection of a host of temporary structures which were to last much longer than they were ever intended. G Block, for instance, was meant to last no more than five years but was still there forty years later, as was the Old Tin Shed, a cluster of temporary huts located in the North Quad. It eventually became clear that the university would have to move to a new site. In 1975 the university completed its move to the new Ilam campus in north west Christchurch. After several years of debate about the future of the site, in 1978 the Arts Centre of Christchurch Trust was formed to hold the site and buildings in trust for the people of Christchurch and New Zealand.
Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort
In 1850, Mountfort arrived in Canterbury on the Charlotte Jane and promptly became one of the region’s leading architects. From 1857 to 1875 he was heavily involved in the architecture of the province and was responsible for many notable buildings including the Canterbury Museum and the Canterbury Provincial Chambers. The Gothic Revival style that he had mastered in England was prevalent in his work. The Canterbury College buildings were all to be built in Gothic as this form was felt to best express strong Christian traditions, but faced with dwindling finances, delays and opposition from certain people, some compromises were made.
Samuel Hurst Seager
Samuel Hurst Seager was long associated with Canterbury College. From 1879-82, he was a student of the college and went on to study architecture at University College in London. He then returned to practice in Christchurch and his signature can be seen on the plans for the earliest college buildings constructed. He was a lecturer at the School of Art from 1893 to 1903 and went on to become a member of the Canterbury College board of governors (1910-19). Although closely involved in the planning and development of the college’s buildings, he did not carry out the work himself; as a board member and Professor Macmillan Brown’s brother-in-law, favouritism would have been alleged. The job of college architects thus fell to Collins and Harman with Seager as ‘consultant architect’. The grand design, however, remains unquestioningly his.