Embassy Theatre, Wellington Hero

Embassy Theatre, Wellington

It’s Wellington’s grandest and oldest cinema, and now it has been earthquake strengthened and has a new bar and two boutique theatres.


Listed Category 1 on the New Zealand Historic Places Trust register, the Embassy Theatre was built in 1924. Hawkins was asked to preserve this cultural gem as part of Wellington City Council’s 10-year plan to undertake earthquake work on its buildings that had been identified as potentially being unsafe in an earthquake.

Hawkins' interiors team came up with a high-end fit out involving a new lounge/bar and two-cinema development, to complete the restoration and alteration of the Embassy which began in 2003. A significant contributing factor to Hawkins being awarded the contract was the methodology that was developed at tender time and subsequently implemented during the works.


What we did:

The strengthening works involved a substantial amount of new seismic steel bracing in the ceiling space; both internal and external sprayed concrete shear walls; 12 metre deep drilled ground anchors (both internal and external); and a new 30m wide K brace in the back of house area behind the stage. Along with the structural aspect of this project, the team also recreated two replica shopfronts to reinstate the appearance of the building's original frontage.

The fitout works were complex. Due to the heritage rating, works were required to both protect and enhance all existing finishes, including some restoration of existing tile finishes and dados. Hawkins worked in close consultation with the design and consulting team to ensure all requirements were met.

The two new 70-seat cinemas are complemented by a contemporary bar and lounge area complete with an original fireplace. Specialty black wool acoustic wall curtains with 80% fullness were installed, as well as cinema screen frames, fixed screen maskings and silver screen surfaces for digital 3D projection from international screen manufacturer Harkness Screens. 

Unique Challenges:

A challenging and high risk project in such an iconic building required innovative thinking.

It was challenging to get large structural steel into the roof space of the theatre and manoeuvred into position safely without damaging the heritage listed ornate ceiling below. Large amounts of welding was carried out without any safety or fire incidents. 

It was also critical to Wellington City Council and the cinema operator that all works were planned and undertaken to minimise the disruption of the ongoing business. To achieve this, the majority of the works was undertaken from early in the morning until 11am. This was followed by a daily inspection to ensure that the area was safe prior to the first cinema showing.

The Outcome:

The desired outcome of the building having a greatly improved level of seismic resistance whilst maintaining the building’s aesthetic value has been achieved. Completed in 2011, the end result is magnificent with the two new auditoriums and foyer area complementing this grand old dame and giving her a new lease of life. The latest in digital sound and screen technology has been installed, making the cinemas two of the best, not only in New Zealand, but across the world.