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Observatory Building Opened

In 1891 James Townsend (an early settler who lived on Park Terrace) donated an equatorial telescope to Canterbury College as he wished to give his prized possession to the community. The telescope was built in Britain by T. Cooke & Sons in 1864. The Astronomical Society of Christchurch contributed around £420 for Canterbury College to erect an Observatory. In 1895, funds that had been set aside for a medical school were used to erect a biological laboratory with a tower for the telescope. The original dome and its replacement were made of wood and canvas. The exterior is a fine example of Gothic’s functional approach, as the building’s exterior was dictated by the planned use of its interiors. Zoology students would use the roof of the Observatory Tower as a vantage point to waterbomb innocent colleagues who sat on the benches below. The main laboratory housed within glass vases, such things as wax models of the embryo of a chicken or gelatine models of the typhus bacteria magnified 25,000 times.

Architect: Benjamin Woolfield Mountford. This building marked his last major contract for Canterbury College before his death.

Physics Building Opened

The Physics building resembles the Gothic Revival style similar to the Clock Tower building, although with a central front entrance. Due to its design to provide maximum floor space and plenty of windows, The Arts Centre has spent more on strengthening this building than any other on the site. In its early years the Physics department became somewhat of a social centre as it was blessed with ample space. It’s basement unofficially served other departments, and from 1921 the attic became a tearoom. Chair of Physics, Dr Clinton Coleridge Farr was relieved of the traffic on his stairs when the Students’ Union building opened in 1929. Ground floor of the building to the right of the entrance was a lecture room that seated fifty and to the left, a large general laboratory for first-year classes. First floor housed eight small laboratories and private rooms, while the third floor was mainly used for storage. After the second World War the Physics department had outgrown the building.

Architect: Collins & Harman

Biology Building Opened

The exterior is a mix of Old English and French Gothic elements. This was the eclectic approach to join two separate buildings together that were erected 20 years apart by two different architects. The entrance doorway is Old English and the false turrelle is a French motif to cover the right-angled join with the Physics department. Due to the increasingly shaded South Quad it meant that the botanical glasshouse had to be installed on the buildings roof.

Architect: Collins & Harman

Across these three buildings Canterbury College (now University of Canterbury) taught Zoology, Biology and Physics.

Arts Centre of Christchurch Trust Established

University of Canterbury (formally Canterbury College) was outgrowing the site and moving departments over to Ilam. At the universities centenary in 1973, it announced that it would gift the buildings to the people of Christchurch as an arts centre. On 31 December 1978 The Arts Centre Trust of Christchurch formally became the owner and official landlord of the centre. At this time The Arts Centre continued to grow with more than fifty organisations headquartered across the site and another fifty individuals were using studios and workshops out of old studies and teaching rooms. A range of tenants occupied the Observatory, Physics and Biology buildings such as galleries and studios, arts practitioners, artists in residences studio, Fudge Cottage kitchen, retail shops, offices for Arts Centre staff and others, University of Canterbury Observatory and the Townsend Telescope.

Canterbury Earthquakes

The Observatory Tower was badly damaged in the 2010 Canterbury earthquake. The buildings were closed, and tenants relocated.

Canterbury Earthquakes

Observatory Tower collapsed in the 2011 Canterbury earthquake. The full Arts Centre site was closed for earthquake strengthening work. The Townsend Telescope was also removed from the Observatory Tower for restoration during this time. Support from David and Leigh Teece to make this restoration possible resulted in the telescope being renamed the Townsend Teece Telescope.

Observatory, Physics and Biology Buildings Restoration Began

Leighs Construction won the contract to work on the buildings restoration and moved on site working alongside The Arts Centre’s stonemasons to restore the buildings. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic there were a couple of nationwide lockdowns that halted restoration work.

The Observatory Hotel Grand Opening

The buildings restoration was complete, and The Observatory Hotel officially opened.

Strange, Glyn. (1994). The Arts Centre of Christchurch, Then and Now.

"Across the sea of space, the stars are other suns."

Carl Sagan