Unesco award for Christchurch heritage restoration projects

Restoration of two buildings in Christchurch’s Arts Centre has led to a merit award in the prestigious Unesco Asia-Pacific awards for cultural heritage conservation.

It’s the fourth time a New Zealand project has been recognised by the awards, with the Arts Centre taking out honours in a field of 43 projects from 10 countries.

The award is for the post-earthquake restoration of the Great Hall and Clock Tower.

Judging jury chairwoman Dr Duong Bich Hanh says “the restoration celebrates a memorable step toward the city’s recovery following the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

The Arts Centre is New Zealand’s largest collection of Category 1 heritage buildings and it is held in trust for the people of Canterbury.

Its 23 buildings suffered extensive damage in the Canterbury earthquakes and an extensive $290 million restoration programme is under way – the largest of its type in the world.

The site is being progressively reopened and more than half is now open to the public.

Work on the restoration of the Arts Centre great hall built in the gothic revival style

Much of the restoration work is being funded by insurance but the Arts Centre is relying on fundraising, grants and partnerships to complete the project.

A significant portion of funding for the Great Hall and Clock Tower restoration came from the Aotearoa Foundation, Fletcher Building and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

For more than a century, the Arts Centre was home to Canterbury College, and then the University of Canterbury.

Since 1978, the site has been held in trust as a place where arts, culture, education and creativity are fostered and promoted.

Suffering major damage in the earthquakes, the Great Hall and Clock Tower’s gothic revival masonry structures underwent a sophisticated regime of seismic strengthening and retrofitting, along with painstaking reconstruction of significant heritage features such as the turret and stained glass windows.

Modern facilities and services were discreetly inserted to enhance the contemporary functionality of the buildings.

The restored Arts Centre clock tower on Worcester St

The awards recognise the efforts of private individuals and organisations that have successfully restored and conserved structures and buildings of heritage value.

The jury also judges the project’s contribution to the surrounding environment and to the local community’s cultural and historical continuity.

“The jury was impressed by the heroic nature of the conservation projects, especially those that underscore the importance of protecting heritage that is rooted in the least powerful segments of society,” Dr Duong says.

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