Open Christchurch - one weekend of architecture


Dr Jessica Halliday

The Arts Centre

Rāpaki Church

First Church of Christ Scientist

Open Christchurch - one weekend of architecture

Open Christchurch is a revolutionary architecture festival, geared around giving people access to the buildings of Ōtautahi. What's Hot New Zealand talks some of the city’s coolest constructions with the festival organiser.

Te Pūtahi, the organisation behind Open Christchurch, really values and appreciates the myriad of ways in which our ancestors designed and built Christchurch, the city we live in,” says Te Pūtahi director and architectural historian Dr Jessica Halliday. “We want to share that with people who perhaps don’t have the time, access and opportunity to explore and learn about Ōtautahi’s most beautiful and interesting buildings.”

We share our everyday lives with architecture, she says. It can bring us joy, bring us down, and it can connect us to our stories and our history. Architecture also has us looking to the future, and what comes next for our cityscape. The idea of the festival is to open a series of interesting and important Christchurch buildings to the public, which among other things Jessica hopes will foster public discussion and debate about what is ‘good’, what has changed in our city, and what it can be in the future. While many buildings that will be open in the May festival have been announced, there are still more to come.

What is ‘the architecture’ of Christchurch?

“It’s been many different things over time and, you know, that changes,” Jessica says. “People often associate Christchurch with Gothic Revival… that style reflected what really mattered to European settlers that came here.”

The four big Gothic Revival buildings were the Christ Church Cathedral, the former Canterbury University/Arts Centre, the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings,
and the Canterbury Museum. These buildings reflected the values of religion, education, governance, and the storing of knowledge respectively.

“In a few decades they put a lot of resources, time, money and expertise into creating those places as beautifully and with as much importance as they could,” Jessica says. “The later postmodern architecture says other things about us. And today it’s really hard to say [what our architecture tells us], because we are bound up in what is happening now.”

One thing she is noticing is the values of Ngāi Tahu being incorporated into public buildings, where formerly most works kept tangata whenua outside of the process. “That’s a significant shift. You start to see how architecture can shape who we are and where we are right now.”

7 of Dr Halliday’s favourite Christchurch buildings

Christchurch Town Hall “It’s amazing, I love that place… it’s a public work of architecture. I have a lot of experiences that connect me to public life there: university, gigs, concerts, events. It’s not just the architecture; it’s how we use it.”

The Arts Centre “I love just sitting in the north and south quads and looking at the buildings that were developed there over many decades to create this harmonious atmosphere.”

Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings “These are still sitting there, waiting for us to decide that we have the resources to restore them and strengthen them. I have so many memories of being in those timber corridors, the warm flagstones – warm in the sense that so many people have walked through those corridors over time. The stone chamber was, and will hopefully be again, one of the most jaw-dropping interiors we have ever created in this country. Polychromatic tiling and painting – you just go ‘wow’.”

Tūranga “I love that it’s a place for everyone, and it totally changed the city centre when it opened. Architecture, books, learning experiences and opportunities. It’s free, it welcomes everyone, and the values reflect mana whenua.”

Rāpaki Church “It’s so special, and being there has an incredible atmosphere. Sacred spaces often change how you feel.”

First Church of Christ Scientist “There’s not a church like it in New Zealand. The postmodern building references architecture in a modern way. There are references to the artist Mondrian. It’s really curious. I can’t wait to share it.”

MegaTower “People won’t know this one, I don’t think. It’s a tiny three-point-five-storey building on a tiny little footprint, maybe five metres by five. It’s in Merivale on Office Road, just off Papanui. It’s like a little bit of Japan in Merivale. You look at it and go, ‘why here?’ This is very interesting; it’s a different way of living. It could be residential, mixed use, the bottom could be converted for commercial. It’s just really intriguing.”

And more… “And of course there are heaps and heaps of amazing residential properties in Christchurch. I’d have to shout out to my grandparents’ 1966 house designed by Don Cowey. It’s one of my favourite places in the world. It’s on the hillside in Halswell and one of the architectural experiences for me personally that made me interested in the field. We’re not opening that one this year, but in future years we will.”

Open Christchurch, Sat 15 – Sun 16 May


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