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The story of an icon

Christchurch’s proud tradition of exceptional public architecture is evident in one of the city’s favourite buildings – the Christchurch Town Hall.



Playing prestigious host to numerous celebrations, concerts and civic events over the years, the building once described as the city’s ‘public living room’ reopened triumphantly in 2019 after a successful campaign for its restoration.

Through the tortuous beginnings of the original project, to the battle to save the complex post-quake, a new book published by Canterbury University Press, captures an intimate story of the building’s survival.

It was a fitting project for former Associate Professor of Art History at UC Dr Ian Lochhead who edited The Christchurch Town Hall 1965–2019: A dream renewed.

Dr Lochhead was an early advocate of repair and restoration, expressed his views in a piece titled ‘Let our public living room live again’ published in The Press on 20 March 2012.

When the facility opened to much fanfare and civic interest in 1972, the auditorium in particular was unlike anything seen in New Zealand before, Dr Lochhead explains.

While Sir Miles Warren led the creative architectural team (establishing the reputation of Warren & Mahoney nationally), it was Sir Harold Marshall who was responsible for the world-class acoustics that changed the way concert halls around the world were designed from that point on.

The quality of Marshall’s acoustic design attracted performers of the calibre of Leonard Bernstein, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Carlos Santana and, just last month, renowned cellist YoYo Ma, and saw Christchurch recognised alongside the great concert halls of Vienna, Boston and Lucerne. The Philharmonie de Paris, which opened in 2015, took its design cues from the Christchurch Town Hall, to the extent that the French employed Marshall Day Acoustics, the practice established by Harold Marshall in 1981.

The compelling story of the incredibly challenging restoration is recounted in chapters by Peter Marshall and John Hare and captured in photos by former UC photographer Duncan Shaw-Brown and by Olivia Spencer-Bower.

UC returned to the Town Hall for its graduation ceremonies in 2019, one of many key Christchurch organisations to again use this much-loved space for their most important celebrations.

The Christchurch Town Hall 1965–2019: A dream renewed, edited by Dr Ian Lochhead, is available now in hardback edition and online.


Nick in the City

Nick in the City

I’m fortunate enough to be on the coal face of the development within the city and of course spent some time going over the new Town Hall.


Nick in the City


I can’t say that I’m not excited by what will be my first visit for a function. Tim Beveridge is bringing his acclaimed The Music is Bond to the Christchurch Town Hall on 16 March. The sexiness and fun of 50 years of James Bond comes to life in an exceptional show featuring the best in musical talent from Canterbury with a superb cast including Jackie Clarke, Ali Harper, Caitlin Smith and backed by the magnificent sound of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.

Tim says, “I am very excited to be returning to the Christchurch Town Hall. It’s probably going to be a bit emotional to be back there after having had so many wonderful experiences performing there with the CSO”. “I also first met my wife there!”

I stood amazed the last time I saw Tim belt out a stunning rendition of Tom Jones’ Thunder ball and every piece is stunningly crafted by the Christchurch symphony Orchestra to perfection. Yes, it’s true I’m a BIG James Bond fan but the music here is timeless.

With the talented performers debuting this music in Christchurch’s stunning new performance venue there’s no better excuse to come and check out what the new Town Hall has to offer.


Book early at and have a few martinis, shaken not stirred, before you go.


Central city comeback queen

Central city comeback queen

Almost eight years since the 2011 February earthquake forced its closure and three years since restoration work began, the Christchurch Town Hall is earning its place as the central city’s comeback queen.


Central city comeback queen


The first rebuild of this magnitude to be completed in the city, enhancements include modern and integrated technologies, extensive heating and cooling systems, improved accessibility, retractable theatre seating and reconfigured backstage facilities, though its heritage aesthetic will remain largely unchanged.

Vbase is gearing up for a busy year when the Christchurch Town Hall reopens for business in March 2019, with the first events now getting locked in, Vbase Acting General Manager, Events Services Chris Wallace says. “We’re really excited to see both existing and new events return to the Christchurch Town Hall, and to the central city. Vbase are hosting hundreds of events and thousands of guests throughout its venues each year and we expect this to only increase with the return of the Christchurch Town Hall.”


We’re excited to see events return to the Town Hall


Post-quake, Horncastle Arena and the Air Force Museum of New Zealand have provided valuable alternatives to many events traditionally held in the Christchurch Town Hall, such as music festivals, community events and conferences up to 1,500 guests. The first contracted event will see the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra return to the Douglas Lilburn Auditorium when it performs alongside popular artist Shapeshifter on Friday 1 March 2019. Other events scheduled in the first six months include national and international conferences, concerts, gala dinners and community events.



Part of a legacy

Part of a legacy: Refurbished Town Hall

The opportunity to get an exclusive preview of the extensive refurbishment of the Town Hall saw me standing on the old site of the Crowne Plaza one fine spring day.


Part of a legacy


Now a Gap-Filler-style area full of food caravans with happy, relaxed locals meandering through, memories came flooding back, reminding me of the prominence of this central city block – both historically and architecturally. The Christchurch Town Hall represents a core part of the heritage fabric of Christchurch and one which has served as a gathering place for performances, cultural events and meetings since 1972. Watching the work underway to bring back one of Christchurch’s last standing heritage buildings can only be described as a powerful experience.
The improvement of the ground has taken almost 11 months alone, with the insertion of new piling systems that are necessary not only to repair, but also to future-proof the building and protect it should we ever face another seismic event. A new raft slab has been well-planned to ensure that if anything happens, damage should be focused on the surrounding exterior and not on the interior system.


In October 2012 the recommendation came through to demolish everything but the main auditorium; a hard call for the people of Christchurch but Christchurch City councillors voted to restore the building. Work is progressing well as those behind this mammoth task work hard to meet the February 2019 deadline. The hard yards are done, and constant chatter of power drills, hammers and skill saws is a reminder that we are on a building site in full swing. With several new spaces for events areas and a multifunctional capability, the new Town Hall has more muscle for the future, while remaining respectful of the poignancy this vestige of Christchurch’s built heritage represents.


Part of a legacy


Sir Miles Warren and Maurice Mahoney from Warren and Mahoney Architects designed the Town Hall and completed the project on 30 September 1972. Since then it has been a hub of performing arts and an iconic part of Christchurch’s architecture. The Town Hall is one of the first buildings in New Zealand to be remediated using jet grouting; the 150mm thick floor slab has been replaced with a new concrete raft slab, helping to bring the building up to 100 percent of the New Building Standard. Above ground, instead of adding extrya concrete to reinforce the building, a new method of applying fibre-reinforced polymer to the original walls has been used. The new material is thinner but as strong as concrete.

Everyone who knows the Town Hall has a story; I personally have a multitude, including enjoying a tipple with Paul Young and Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet, to having champagne with Kiri Te Kanawa, and even my first stage show of Cats. This is, in my opinion, why the Christchurch City Council voted to restore it; the need to retain something of cultural importance to Christchurch which is at risk of becoming a contemporary city full of concrete tilt slabs and glass façades; something to remind us that we have a vibrant, relevant and important history.


Part of a legacy


According to Andrew Trevelyan from Ōtākaro, the Crown-led initiative giving direction to the rebuild in Christchurch, the Garden City rebuild is in full swing, as we head towards the completion of major projects and the Town Hall is integral to that narrative, as we put the puzzle pieces back together. With new marble floors, sweeping staircases and lush carpets, the Town Hall will once again take her place as a centre of entertainment to enable the people of Canterbury to once more enjoy her delights.

With its amazing overhaul featuring the new Avon Room and its stunning view of the new Victoria Square and Avon River, the Town Hall is coming back, better, stronger and more dynamic than ever before and we have not long to go before we can all take in her outer and inner wonders – it’s going to be a beautiful thing.