The Arts Centre’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, that attempted to revive the forms and details of the original Gothic style of the Middle Ages.
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 a quadrangle on either side of the new library, and for the buildings to be linked by arcades that have become a much-admired feature of the site.
The style was based on the Oxbridge model of academic buildings surrounding cloistered quadrangles.
During the period after the Second World War, the site was subject to temporary additions and structures that were made necessary by the demands of an expanding university roll.
In 1990, the Arts Centre complex was registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust – Pouhere Taonga – as a collection in order to recognise the historical and architectural importance of not just the individual buildings, but also the complex as a whole.
Great care is being taken during the rebuild process to honour the heritage of these buildings, alongside an extensive programme of earthquake strengthening.