History


Explore the rich history of The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora site, formerly used by Canterbury College (now the University of Canterbury), and Christchurch Boys’ and Christchurch Girls’ High Schools. There are 23 buildings on site, of which 22 are listed by Heritage New Zealand with 21 categorised as Historic Place Category One.

Great Hall (1882)

The Great Hall opens to both acclaim and controversy on Diploma Day 1882.

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Great Hall stained-glass window (1938)

This window of about 4000 invidividual pieces of glass was originally installed in 1938, 20 years after its design was completed by Martin Travers.

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WW100 memorial window (2015)

Reinstalled in November 2015, the window was rededicated to the memory of all staff and students associated with the site who served in World War One.

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Great Hall reopens (2016)

The stunning Great Hall has been extensively strengthened, repaired and restored, although most of this work is intentionally hidden beneath its beautiful heritage fabric.

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Canterbury Heritage Awards (2016)

The meticulous restoration of the Great Hall is recognised by these awards, with it taking out both the Supreme and Seismic awards.

Classics reopens (2017)

The Classics building provides a link to the Great Hall’s magnificent turret, plus features an enclosed balcony that overlooks the North Quad.

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UNESCO Asia‐Pacific Awards (2017)

The restoration of the Great Hall and Clock Tower win a Merit Award in the UNESCO Asia‐Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

Great Hall (1882)

Because classroom space was in short supply, a hall was considered a luxury for Canterbury College. The Great Hall (originally called College Hall) opened to both acclaim and controversy on Diploma Day 1882.

In its early years, it housed the college’s small library and was used for public lectures and formal graduation ceremonies. Over time, the university allowed greater use of the hall for events such as music recitals, student dances and society gatherings. Prior to the earthquakes, as it does again now, the hall held a wide range of events and performances year-round.

The hall strongly reflects local heritage and culture. It makes rich use of native timbers, with kauri and rimu panelling, along with rewarewa, totara and matai lozenges.

It provides space for memorial plaques and icons, the first of which was dedicated to Helen Connon, the first woman to graduate from university with honours in the British Empire.

A special feature of the building is the Memorial Window designed by Martin Travers and originally installed in 1938. It comprises of 4,000 individual pieces of glass.

Great Hall stained-glass window (1938)

The Memorial Window was originally installed in 1938, 20 years after its design was completed by Martin Travers, a teacher at the royal College of Art in London. It depicts the service of humanity by action and thought and includes possibly the most portraits found in any 20th century English stained-glass window.

It is comprised of about 4,000 individual pieces of glass.

WW100 memorial window (2015)

Comprised of about 4,000 individual pieces of glass, the window was removed to ensure its safety while major earthquake repair work was carried out on the Great Hall. The window was not significantly damaged in the earthquake thanks to earlier strengthening work; however the lead was due for replacement, and there was some cracking in parts from age. The restoration of the Great Hall provided an opportunity to remove and work on the window.

Two people worked on the window continuously for one year before it was reinstalled in November 2015. A new isothermal system has been installed to protect the window from exterior elements and to aid soundproofing. The total estimated cost of the window restoration is $130,000.

In December 2015, the window was rededicated to the memory of all staff and students who served in World War One and who previously attended an institution once based on the site now known as the Arts Centre: Canterbury College, the School of Engineering, the School of Art, Christchurch Boys’ High School and Christchurch Girls’ High School. In addition, the 235 who perished are now honoured with dedication plaques that sit beneath the window.

Great Hall reopens (2016)

The once magnificent Great Hall was the very first building The Arts Centre of Christchurch Trust Board committed to restoring. It has been extensively strengthened, repaired and restored, although most of this work is intentionally hidden beneath its beautiful heritage fabric.

After the first earthquake on 4 September 2010, The Arts Centre removed the turret of the Great Hall. This early work saved the Great Hall from more extensive damage.

The Great Hall exemplifies the process of repair and restoration at the Arts Centre, where a new structure has been built within the existing one. To ensure the Great Hall’s safety and stability, an elaborate system of earthquake strengthening was installed. The building was propped up, and internal timber and brick stripped out to allow for new concrete and steel strengthening. New structures retrofitted into almost the entirety of the existing building are completely hidden from sight. On the western side of the building, bars have been inserted into holes delicately drilled into the Great Hall’s 13-metre stone columns. These bars connect above to steel braces that arch over the roof.

More than 14,000 pieces of timber and decorative features were carefully removed, photographed, numbered and stored in the right atmospheric conditions during the restoration process.

Under-floor heating draws water from on-site aquifers and is controlled by a plant room hidden beneath the Great Hall’s stage.

Perhaps the most visible change is the state-of-the-art lighting that has been fitted within the Great Hall’s ceiling, enhancing the Hall’s architectural features to stunning effect. The new lighting system is complemented with further professional LED lights that illuminate concerts, theatre productions, lectures, exhibitions and other events.

In June 2016, the meticulous care that went into its restoration was recognised in the Canterbury Heritage Awards, with it taking out both the Supreme and Seismic awards. The post-earthquake restoration of the Great Hall and adjacent Clock Tower won a Merit Award in the UNESCO Asia‐Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation in late 2017.

A significant portion of funding for the Great Hall and Clock Tower restoration came from the Aotearoa Foundation, Fletcher Building, Mr John Griffin, and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. The Great Hall is now available for hire.

Classics reopens (2017)

The Classics building provides a link to the Great Hall’s magnificent turret.  An enclosed Arcades balcony featuring 2m-wide triple slider window for uninterrupted views over North Quad has been added as well as new gender neutral toilet facilities.

Classics features one of two working fireplaces on the site and the former architects’ Boardroom converted into office space with own kitchenette.

The roof was retiled in new Welsh slate and lead and historic brickwork completely restored and the steel earthquake strengthening structures are hidden beneath the heritage features.

The Classics Boardroom and Conservatory are now available for hire.