‘Home’ can be a feeling of connection to our local cultural heritage. In this issue I look at some of Christchurch’s older structures that could have been lost in the earthquakes, but have been repaired. New Regent Street, the Bridge of Remembrance and the Christchurch Town Hall are places many Cantabrians born pre-earthquake have visited and created memories of, leading to a feeling of Christchurch city as home.
Words Richard Dalman
New Regent Street was one of only a few large projects completed in the South Island during the Great Depression.
The Spanish Mission-style pastel-coloured terrace buildings were unique at the time, when most streetscapes were a mix of heights and styles. Designed in 1932, it was (and probably still is) New Zealand’s only street designed in a uniform style. Originally, the site was a circus paddock that was transformed into a huge roller-skating rink in 1888. The ‘Colosseum’ was later used as a boot factory, an ice rink, and Christchurch’s first picture theatre. The 40 two-storey buildings were designed by Francis Willis and opened on 1 April 1932. Only three shops were let at the time because of the economy, but the pastel colours were considered to be a sign of optimism.
In 1994, the road was turned into a pedestrian mall in preparation for the tram to start operating the following year.
Following the earthquakes it was the only complete heritage streetscape remaining. It was brought up to 69 per cent of the new building code, with structural steel, reinforced concrete walls added and a new continuous concrete raft foundation. It was reopened in 2013. Today, it is still a lively place of entertainment, where people continue to enjoy the various shops, restaurants and bars, and catch the tram.
Designed by Prouse and Gummer and built in 1924, the Bridge of Remembrance and Memorial Arch commemorates the soldiers of Canterbury who fought during World War I, and the New Zealanders who fought and died in the wars that followed. The bridge is built on the site through which all Canterbury soldiers passed as they marched off to war and is inscribed with ‘Quid non pro patria: What will a man not do for his country’. It is constructed of concrete-faced sandstone, and was converted to a pedestrian bridge in 1976.
As well as having historic and cultural significance, the arch structures also provide an important landmark in our central city. The arches were technically challenging to repair and involved 3D modelling and laser surveying. The seismic strengthening and 27m-deep piles will protect it if another large earthquake was to occur. The Bridge of Remembrance re-opened on Anzac Day 2016. It will continue to be a place at which people can honour the defence force personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Many Cantabrians have been to the Christchurch Town Hall, whether for a school performance or graduation, a concert, wedding reception, or just dinner at the old Boat Restaurant. Before the Warren and Mahoney building opened in 1972, Christchurch was without a town hall for 99 years. The first two town halls, located side by side in the central city, were gutted by fire in 1873. The modernist design was the winner of an architectural
competition, and the floor plan is so simple it could be sketched in 10 seconds. From the main entry off Kilmore Street you turn right for the auditorium (previously described as ‘Christchurch’s living room’), left for the James
Hay Theatre, and straight on for the function rooms and restaurant. Easy!
The exterior form of the building follows the function of the spaces within, unlike the Sydney Opera House
constructed at a similar time (to a much larger budget) where the form is more sculptural and poetic. Fortunately, the main spaces are being restored, while the river side is being partially rebuilt. A new building on the
western side will house the V Base offices and Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. The repair work also consists of restoration of a number of features including the 50 large panels of Pat Hanly’s 1971 artwork Rainbow Pieces, and improving the acoustics in the James Hay Theatre and staging technology. On completion the building will meet 100 per cent of the building code. It reopens next year on 1 March. Each of these structures has a past. They tell a story of experiences, and together they join with our collective memory of the city and help to inform our perception and feeling of ‘home’.