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Restoring the heart of a broken city

Architecture is a huge part of a city’s identity. Post Earthquakes, Christchurch has been a phoenix rising from the ashes. The original fabric of the city was mostly lost, beginning a long, passionate, and determined mission to restore what little could be saved.

The Arts Centre F Block rubble appeared to be another casualty of the quakes, left to live on in the archives of history and memory of the people. However, in an extraordinary collaboration between The Arts Centre of Christchurch Trust Board, Holmes NZ Engineers, Warren and Mahoney, and Leighs Construction, this building stands strong today. The Observatory Hotel, a luxurious and sumptuous 33-room hotel, signals what is possible when you combine imagination with determination.

It took six months of detailed planning, working closely with engineers and consultants before a single stone was moved. Unlike a new build, the sequence of operations was critical because the buildings and plans were over 100 years old. This means an agile response at every stage of restoration was required due to the building’s heritage standing.

The first thing you notice at the Arts Centre is the beautiful masonry. The portion of the Observatory Tower that did not fall in the earthquakes was painstakingly deconstructed, recorded, stored, and then rebuilt with each stone placed back in its original position. Every stone of that portion went back exactly where it was. This work was completed by the talented Arts Centre stone masons.

The reconstruction of the Observatory Tower included a new domed telescope housing at the top. The telescope, also over a hundred years old, was reconditioned and rebuilt by Canterbury University.

Heritage Rimu staircases were removed to build the tower, repaired, and then dropped in from the top of the tower and lowered back into the building. The whole project involved complex crane lifts with temporary roof structures, which were in place to protect the internal heritage fabric whilst new roofs were being built. These presented not only technical challenges but helped to create a strong safety culture within the team.

This intricate restoration is a celebration of Oututahi’s heritage, and a living example of what experience, pride, passion, and excellence in construction can achieve.


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