School of Art (1878)

Architectural design is underway for this building that avoided major damage in the earthquakes thanks to earlier earthquake strengthening.

Strengthening work that was carried out on the buildings in 2008 meant the School of Art was the least-damaged building on site during the Canterbury earthquakes.

However, damage to the passage that connects the School of Art with the adjacent West Lecture – which was not strengthened – compromised the safety of the entire block.

Restoration highlights

• New lift making it universally accessible for the first time in history.
• New open plan layout to facilitate a co-working environment.

History and Heritage

The Christchurch Girls’ High School building opened in 1878. The Gothic Revival-style building was designed by architect Thomas Cane and was built of ‘grey’ basalt and limestone facings.

Due to an expanding roll, in 1882 the Girls’ High moved to Cramner Square. Canterbury College’s School of Art moved into the building and over several years a number of alterations and additions were made — the most notable of which were designed by eminent Canterbury architect, Samuel Hurst Seager.

The trades of sign writing, painting and decorating were taught at the School of Art. But from the 1920s, an emphasis on the fine arts saw the school produce a strong group of painters including Rata Lovell-Smith, Rita Angus, Olivia Spencer-Bower and, later, William Sutton. Many notable artists such as Elizabeth Kelly, Evelyn Page and Sydney Lough Thompson later returned to teach at the College and led the most progressive art school in the Southern Hemisphere.

In 1957 the School of Fine Arts was the first University department to move to the new Ilam campus. Today, it is the longest continuously running art school in the Commonwealth.

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