Christchurch Town Hall Hero

Christchurch Town Hall Conservation Project

Following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes the Christchurch Town Hall suffered serious damage to its structure and lateral spread to its foundations.

Hawkins was engaged to repair the existing facility to 100 per cent of New Building Standard (NBS) through the installation of a new foundation solution together with structural repairs and strengthening of the building.

In addition, Hawkins also upgraded and updated the structural, architectural, acoustic, fire, mechanical and electrical services across the whole of the Town Hall to give it a further 50-year lifespan - ensuring it is a modern, world-class facility that can be enjoyed for years to come.

The Christchurch Town Hall is a historic structure and had a specific technical focus on heritage works, including ensuring all heritage items were protected, removed and stored as necessary. They were then refurbished and reinstated to their original form.

The project was a complex and unique rebuild which required continual innovation through a collaborative team approach to provide the best solutions for the numerous challenges and issues that arose. The existing structure was under significant stress due to the numerous seismic events. The structural integrity of the building needed to be maintained throughout the piling, demolition, excavation and rebuild work.

There was an emphasis on environmental management during the project to ensure there was no contamination to the Avon River from construction works. 

The scope of the project included construction of a three-storey annex to the Christchurch Town Hall. This purposebuilt facility will provide the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra with a permanent home in the complex for the first time.

The project included staged handovers with the auditorium and various rooms reopening in February 2019, the James Hay Theatre reopening in May 2019 and the final handover of the CSO building in August 2019.

This high-profile project was of great importance to the people of Christchurch and had ongoing local and national media coverage throughout the works.

Our Christchurch-based team say this is one of the most technically challenging projects they’ve ever worked on – and certainly the most rewarding. 

In this story from Architecture NZ magazine, Ian Lochhead, editor of The Christchurch Town Hall – 1965 to 2019: A Dream Renewed, which is to be published by Canterbury University Press later in 2019, details how important it was for this world-renowned music venue to be restored.

“As the opening concerts revealed, its famed acoustic is unaffected,” he writes. The “clarity of sound within the warm and resonant acoustic that the Lilburn auditorium provides brought tears to more than a few eyes”. 

Paul Youngman, the Hawkins Project Manager on this job, said:

“When people walk back into the building, they might think it looks just the same as it always did. That’s the greatest compliment we could have. A lot of where the money has been spent is underground, or in the improved fabric or functionality of the building.

“A huge amount of work – and a huge investment by the Council - has gone into this and a lot of it is underground. The ground improvement work took 11 months. We needed to create a more stable footprint, to stop the ground turning to liquid in a future earthquake. 

“There have been so many memorable, challenging stages to the project – and the whole thing has been so technical it’s difficult to capture it all in a few words. The ground stabilisation process involved jet grouting 1056 piles. We replaced the 150mm floor slab with a much heavier 900mm structural slab. Every roof has been replaced. We’ve added double glazing. We took down 32 columns, lowered 455 tonnes of building above on jacks, propped it all up with temporary engineering steel props and frames and then we repoured all the columns underneath the building, with self-compacting concrete.

“The other thing we did was in the James Hay Theatre all the slabs had to come out. There was a big wall, 18m long and 12m high. We had to temporary prop the rest of it above it and hold it up in the air while we took all the ground floor slab out. To prop while you’re trying to take out the floor is very challenging.

“Despite the magnitude of the project, every stage went as we expected - that’s because we spent so much time doing detailed planning, which meant we got each job right first time,” Paul says. 

Watch a video about the project here