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Restoration of the Great Hall, one of the most historically significant buildings on the Christchurch Arts Centre site

Christchurch Arts Centre wins gold at national engineering awards

Technical excellence and the sensitive treatment of heritage features during restoration of two of the Christchurch Arts Centre’s oldest buildings has resulted in a national engineering award.


The restoration of the Clock Tower (1877) and Great Hall (1882) was awarded a Gold Award of Excellence at this year’s Association of Consulting Engineers New Zealand (ACENZ) INNOVATE Awards. 

Announced in early August, the awards showcase and celebrate outstanding engineering projects from around New Zealand, with judges looking for technology, innovation and service that go beyond what is considered standard for the industry.

Structural engineers Holmes Consulting worked collaboratively with the Arts Centre to restore the treasured historic buildings, with Holmes project director John Trowsdale describing it as an enormous challenge. 

“We worked with the Arts Centre to introduce cutting-edge structural solutions that were hidden beneath and within the existing masonry, plus installed modern utilities and services – all while retaining the buildings’ original features,” he says. 

“Each structure required different structural solutions, which needed to be invisible to the eye as much as possible, using the original stone and a variety of new materials to repair the extensive damage. The key was to preserve and protect the stunning heritage features so the Arts Centre maintained its heritage and authenticity, while also underpinning the structure with modern – and hidden – structural features to safeguard its future and ensure the safety of those who use it.”

Tailored for the 21st century

The Arts Centre restoration is one of the largest heritage projects of its kind being undertaken in the world, and more than half the site has now reopened to the public. The Great Hall and Clock Tower were the first buildings to be restored because they were the most historically significant buildings on the site, says Arts Centre CEO André Lovatt. 

“These buildings have always been places for people, and their post-earthquake restoration provided an opportunity to cleverly tailor them for a 21st century community. Tens of thousands have flocked to them since they re-opened, reflecting the special and powerful memories they hold for so many in our healing community.”

The Arts Centre’s distinctive architectural style was established by renowned New Zealand architect Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort, who designed the first buildings for the site when it was owned by Canterbury College. He started with the Clock Tower and then the Great Hall, with both buildings typical of the Gothic Revival period of architecture – a 19th century style that Mountfort had learnt from his masters in England.

Progressive re-opening

The Christchurch Arts Centre is New Zealand’s largest collection of Category 1 heritage buildings and it is held in trust for the people of Canterbury and its visitors. A core consulting team worked with the Arts Centre on the restoration of the Great Hall and Clock Tower, comprising Holmes Consulting, Warren and Mahoney, Powell Fenwick Consultants, Resource Management Group, Dave Pearson Architects, Holmes Fire and Fletcher Construction.

The Arts Centre’s 23 buildings suffered significant damage in the Canterbury earthquakes and an extensive $290 million restoration programme is currently underway – the largest of its type in the world. The site is being progressively re-opened and more than half is now open to the public. Much of the restoration work is being funded by insurance, but the Arts Centre is relying on fundraising, grants and partnerships in order to complete the project.

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