Site history

As well as representing a unique part of the cultural and architectural heritage of New Zealand, the Arts Centre reflects the rich history of local education.

Styled on old English College traditions, the buildings have been linked to some of our nation’s key developments in arts and science.

The Arts Centre buildings are tied to the establishment of the Canterbury College – now the University of Canterbury – and two of the city’s secondary schools.

Construction began with the building of the Clock Tower block – the first building in New Zealand to be designed specifically for a university.

The Girls’ High School building opened the following year, followed by the Boys’ High School three years later, and other buildings were added as the University expanded. Both schools would move off-site in 1881 and 1926 respectively.

The last stone building to be completed was the Engineering Block in 1923.

By the mid-1950s the university’s increasing roll required a move to a larger campus. By 1978, the university had fully relocated to the suburb of Ilam, where it remains today.

It was then that the site’s buildings were transferred to the Arts Centre of Christchurch Trust Board to be used for a variety of arts-related activities, including art and artisan studio spaces, cafés and restaurants, theatres, cinemas, retail, outdoor markets, galleries and public performances. The Arts Centre became known as a key destination for visitors and locals alike.

In 2010 and 2011 the Canterbury region was struck by a series of devastating earthquakes. Due to damage sustained from the earthquakes, an extensive seven-year, $290 million restoration programme is underway. During this period of restoration, the site will re-open in stages.