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The Christchurch Town Hall takes a leading role in the celebration of Beca Heritage Week 2008 this month.
The Town Hall will host the leading Heritage Week function, the Great Heritage Debate on Tuesday, October 21 in the Limes Room. Multiple award winning columnist and author of 15 books Joe Bennett will chair a distinguished panel of debaters on the topic “Christchurch's modernist architecture is not heritage - it's a load of old concrete!”
The exterior of building will also be lit up in colour for the duration of the Heritage Week from October 17-27, as will two other iconic buildings of the era being celebrated under the theme: “Retrospective: Christchurch Life, Architecture and Design 1940s-1970s”.
The Christchurch Town Hall is one of the biggest civic projects ever undertaken in New Zealand, and the result of one of the most significant architectural competitions.
The Town Hall competition entrants represented some of most innovative architects of the time: Pascoe & Linton; Lawry & Sellars; Austin, Dixon & Pepper; Gabites & Beard and Thorpe; Cutter, Pickmere, Douglas & Partners and Peter Beaven, whose design was singled out by the jury as being especially noteworthy for its sculptural forms.
Warren and Mahoney’s winning design is one of the notable Christchurch buildings of the period (designed 1965, completed 1972). Sir Miles Warren says that it was the most splendid commission that could be conceived at that time. The Town Hall contract earned Warren and Mahoney a national profile and the firm went on to design some exceptional buildings around the country, including the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington, where Sir Miles’ brief was “like Christchurch Town Hall but only better”.
What Sir Miles remembers of the time is the down-to-earth approach to the whole thing: “Once the brief was finalised I was told ‘Get on with it. If you stuff it up, we’ll kill you,” he says. The design competition was exhaustive and the contract was very clear (the architects had to redesign if they exceeded the five percent leeway on the contract figure).
It is a period in Christchurch architectural history that Sir Miles remembers fondly: “We had a clean slate and whole new vocabulary of materials.” The years from the Great Depression to the two world wars and a little after saw few changes in Christchurch architecture. The Town Hall was the first major public project in a very long time and, with its inter-related public space, was a unique addition.
The building reflects technology and architectural aesthetics of the time with its extensive use of concrete and the way the forms of the internal spaces are reflected in exterior forms. It is still recognised as a model example of concert-hall design today.
In addition to its architectural merits, the Town Hall is of social and cultural value. These values are recognised in the Group 1 (national/ international significance) heritage listing in the City Plan.
“It has worn very well, exactly as it is supposed to,” says Sir Miles, pointing out how the fixtures had retained their colour and how the hallmark red on the walls offset the raw concrete and the white marble floor which anchored the two. He also noted the extraordinary range of uses the concert hall has been put to in the past 40 years, saying few had envisaged the variety in the beginning.
Sir Miles, who retired in 1994, is also the creator of Ohinetahi (which is ranked as one of New Zealand's best formal gardens) at Governor's Bay, Canterbury. His architectural partner, Maurice Mahoney retired earlier in 1992.
“High standards, innovation and commonalities in the use of an architectural language of forms and the use of concrete by Christchurch architects in the 1960s drew attention from the rest of the country, and prompted talk of a Christchurch Style” says Amanda Ohs, Heritage Policy Planner with the Christchurch City Council. “International moves to recognise the significance of post-war architecture continue to grow and we need to start considering our local buildings in this context - the Heritage Week debate will be an entertaining forum to address this issue,” says Ms Ohs.
The Town Hall will also host the Christchurch 50s Up Brass Band Annual Variety Concert Monday October 20 at 2 pm. The band's concert repertoire will focus on music of the 1940s to the end of the 1970s. This year's guest star is Suzanne Prentice, nationally acclaimed Country and Western singer.
Christchurch 50s Up Brass Band Annual Variety Concert
The Christchurch Town Hall Auditorium, Kilmore Street
Monday 20 October, 2 pm - 4.10 pm
Adult $19, Child $19, Senior/Student $19
Heritage Light: A Shine on the 60s
Visit the Christchurch Town Hall, Centre of Contemporary Art (CoCA) gallery, and 65 Cambridge Tce as these inner city icons – all built in the 1960s – come under the spotlight this year for Heritage Week.
Christchurch Town Hall, CoCA Gallery and 65 Cambridge Terrace
17 - 26 October, Daily from 8.30 pm
The Great Heritage Debate
Limes Room, Christchurch Town Hall
Tuesday 21 October, 7.30 pm, doors open from 6.45 pm
Gold coin entry
Disability facilities available