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Christchurch Town Hall

Designed by the firm Warren and Mahoney and completed in 1972, the Christchurch Town Hall is an example of brutalist architecture.

Opening of the new Town Hall
Opening of the new Town Hall. © Christchurch Star

The Christchurch Town Hall complex, situated on Kilmore Street, overlooking the Avon River and Victoria Square, consists of three major elements arranged together as one building. The complex was designed in 1965 by the architectural firm, Warren and Mahoney, in response to a competition for a purpose built town hall. Initially, the hall complex was a joint project by the six former metropolitan territorial local authorities; the former Christchurch City Council, Paparua and Heathcote County Councils, Riccarton and Lyttelton Borough Councils, and Waimairi District Council. Today, it is now the responsibility of the Christchurch City Council.

The Christchurch Town Hall was officially opened on 30 September 1972 by His Excellency the Governor General, Sir Denis Blundell, GCMG, KBE.

The complex suffered damage as a result of the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes. On the 29th August 2013 the Christchurch City Council voted to fully restore the Town Hall as part of the development of a new Performing Arts Precinct for Christchurch. All the options included the partial or entire retention of the Town Hall. Under the option chosen, the Auditorium, entrance foyer, James Hay Theatre and the Limes Room would be retained. The Boaters Restaurant and the Cambridge Room would be rebuilt.

The Christchurch City Council began an expression of interest (EOI) process for contractors interested in tendering for the Town Hall conservation project on September 2014 and the tender process closed in February 2015.  On 11 June 2015, Christchurch City Council was "asked to confirm the August 2013 decision to spend $127.5 million on fully repairing and restoring” the damaged Christchurch Town Hall. Following this approval, foundation repair work began in November 2015.

In July 2017 approval was given for the works to be extended to include a new three-storey Warren and Mahoney-designed building as a rehearsal and office space for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO), as well as offices for Vbase, the venue management company that operates the Town Hall.

The first public access to the repaired complex was on Saturday 23 February and Sunday 24 February 2019 at which time the Douglas Lilburn Auditorium, the Avon Room, formerly the Boaters Restaurant, and the Limes Room were completed. The first performance, a concert by the CSO and Shapeshifter in the Douglas Lilburn Auditorium, took place on 1 March 2019. The James Hay Theatre reopened in May, and with the opening of the CSO's new headquarter extension the repairs and restoration were completed in August 2019.

Douglas Lilburn Auditorium

Schools music festival rehearsal at the Town Hall
Schools music festival rehearsal at the Town Hall. © Christchurch Star

The Auditorium was conceived primarily as a symphony concert hall, but was designed to be suitable for a great variety of public assembly purposes, including a lyric theatre mode. It seats an audience of 2,354, an orchestra of 120, and a choir of 400. The Auditorium is elliptical in plan with two levels of tiered seating surrounding the level central floor and the orchestral stage. Encircling this hall are two levels of promenade foyers and backstage accommodation. The installation of a pipe organ in the Auditorium was completed in May 1997.

Originally the main performance space was known simply as the Christchurch Town Hall Auditorium. On 2 March 2004 a plaque to commemorate the Christchurch home of Douglas Lilburn, New Zealand's leading contemporary composer, was unveiled outside the south-western door of the Christchurch Town Hall. During the period 1941-1950 Lilburn had lived in a dwelling on the site of what would later become Christchurch Town Hall and it was there that he completed a number of compositions, including ‘Landfall in Unknown Seas’, ‘Allegro’, ‘A Song of Islands’ and ‘Symphony No.1’ for orchestra, among others. Following the laying of the commemorative plaque a recommendation was made to also rename the Auditorium in his honour.

James Hay Theatre

The James Hay Theatre was designed as a traditional drama theatre and concert chamber for similar musical performances. It holds an audience of 1,006. The theatre has a fan-shaped auditorium with one upper gallery, both leading from a common foyer which embraces the outer arch of the fan at the back of the tiered seating, and is quite open to, and forms an extension of, the auditorium space.

Foyer, convention and function rooms

Christchurch Town Hall Restaurant
Christchurch Town Hall Restaurant. © Christchurch Star

The foyer, restaurant, convention and function rooms provide facilities for public dining, private and civic receptions, conventions, exhibitions and meetings. Between the Auditorium and the theatre, a common entrance foyer with mezzanine refreshment bars lead directly to the Boaters Restaurant which projected over the edge of the river bank. This area is now known as the Avon Room.

The upper floor contains a 500 seat banquet hall known as the Limes Room (464 m²). The Conference Room (232 m²) is divisible into two parts. Adjacent is the Cambridge Room (232 m²). It is the upper floor of an extension completed in 1976 which includes catering, office accommodation and utility rooms on the ground floor.

The function rooms were augmented in 1997 by the opening of the Christchurch Convention Centre, which was built to adjoin the Town Hall via a glass flyover bridge over Kilmore Street. The Convention Centre was demolished in April 2012 as a result of earthquake damage.

The CSO Centre

The Christchurch Symphony Orchestra Centre, designed by Warren and Mahoney, was built as an addition during earthquake repairs to the building and was opened in August 2019.

The three-storey building, which connects into all levels of the Town Hall, houses the orchestra’s rehearsal rooms, known as the Ron Ball Studio, administration offices, the Rodney Eastgate Music Library, and a Players’ Lounge.

Christchurch Town Hall