Arts Centre of Christchurch

The Arts Centre of Christchurch is housed in the Gothic Revival buildings of the University of Canterbury's former town site.

The former university quadrangle
The former university quadrangle. © Christchurch Star

The University of Canterbury, founded in 1873 in two rooms of the public library, moved to the gracious 19th century gothic-styled buildings which now comprise the Arts Centre, in 1876. Its first building was the clock tower in Worcester Street designed by the pre-eminent Gothic Revival architect, Benjamin Mountfort, and was completed in 1877. The rest of the stone buildings, designed by a number of prominent Canterbury architects such as Samuel Hurst Seager and W. B. Armson and the firm of Collins and Harman, were added over the decades until in the 1920s. This maze of inter-connecting buildings spread out over the whole 2.2 ha town site. Included in this labyrinth were the original Girls' High School on the corner of Rolleston Avenue and Hereford Street and the original Boys' High School at 28 Worcester Street.

When the University celebrated its centennial in 1973, it obtained Government approval to preserve the historic buildings at the western end of the site by presenting them to the people of Christchurch together with a fund for their maintenance derived from the disposal of the eastern end. The University subsequently agreed to the imaginative proposal for multipurpose use of the whole site as an arts centre and the preservation of all the permanent buildings. The transfer of all departments of the University to the present site in the suburb of Ilam was completed in 1975. 1978 saw the formation of the Arts Centre of Christchurch Trust Board, a registered charitable trust, formed to receive the ownership of, and administer in perpetuity, the old University town site.

The buildings of the Arts Centre were damaged following the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes and subsequently closed to the public. A restoration project has ensured that, as of 2019, access is available to all buildings apart from the Student Union, the Engineering building and the Biology, Observatory and Physics building.