City's Edge General - Information and Records Management - University of Canterbury - New Zealand


Following WWII there was a great increase in the student roll at Canterbury College. Space on the central site in the city was very limited and the decision was made to re-establish the University at Ilam. The official announcement of the intention to move was made on 18 June 1949.

While the decision was made and the land purchased, the building process took a lot longer to eventuate. Finally in March 1955 sketch plans were approved and in 1957 tenders were called for.

The land did not lie idle while building plans were prepared. Cyril Watson, the University's Superintendent of Reserves, planted wheat on the site of the current sports field and peas and barley on the Clyde Road site where the Arts Faculty would eventually be located.

The first major move to the new campus was the School of Engineering which partially relocated in 1960, although the School of Fine Arts had previously moved to the old Okeover homestead in 1957.


aerial view - 1961

The completed first stage of the Engineering School is visible on the right while the foundations of the science complex can be seen in the remainder of the image.


aerial photo request - RNZAF - 1963 Aerial pictures were hard to come by in the 1960s and this request to the RNZAF for aerial photos resulted in the images below.









Aerial view 1 -  November 1964 Aerial view 2 - November 1964

Aerial views show the early stages of the campus development. The Engineering School is visible with the round of the mushroom drawing the eye. The buildings under construction at this stage are within the School of Science complex.

Aerial view 3 - November 1964


Site development plan - January 1965 The Third Stage of building was approved in 1965. Buildings of different heights were to be placed around a series of interlocking courts between the new School of Science and the Upper Avon River. The use of courtyards and plazas was designed consciously as a return to the medieval market square idea. This would allow functional meeting places where staff and students could interact easily.




Aerial view 1965 Aerial view 2 - April 1965


Chronicle cover image - November 1965The science complex was completed in 1966 and at this point the division in the University become even more pronounced with Engineering, Fine Arts and Science Schools at the Ilam site, while Arts, Commerce and Law were still situated in town. The aim at this stage became a "photo-finish" - the simultaneous completion of the James Hight tower and the arts blocks. If possible the Arts, Commerce and Law Faculties were to move at the same time with the Registry following. However, building plans rarely go as designed and by 1972 the term "photo-finish" had been dropped from the official vocabulary.






Stage 3 Ilam Model - 1966 1966 model of stage 3 building

These images above show models of the completed University as planned in 1966. While various changes were made to the plans, the genesis of the campus is visible.


Landscape plan model - 1967

The geometrical nature of the architecture was softened with landscaping. This image to the left shows the landscape plan designed in 1967. Plants came to the University from its own nursery, from the Ministry of Works and from various friends. Many people had input over the landscaping and types of planting with heated discussions arising between lovers of native trees and those who preferred those of the Old World. The park-like environment which we enjoy today is due to the efforts of those during this time. Special note should go to G.B.Malcolm from the Ministry of Works who is said to have taken every opportunity to plant a commemorative tree.




Chronicle fish eye view - April 1968"The intimate connotations of Canterbury College could never be recaptured. Having lost one identity, the University of Canterbury was in the process of finding another."

A History of the University of Canterbury 1873 - 1973









Building program 1969

By 1971 the site was taking shape and covered more than 170 acres.

The student population had also more than doubled since 1948, going from 2534 students to 6923 students in 1971.

In addition to the teaching buildings, six halls of residence were completed in the period. These would accommodate roughly 700 students and were used as the athletes' village for the 1974 Commonwealth Games.


By 1972 work on campus was at a climax, as the official history explains:
"...the Library/arts building was revealing itself in its vastness as the focal point of the total design. From its four-storey podium occupying an acre of ground, the tower was soaring seven storys higher still, and its architectural characteristics were beginning to unfold. To the west, across what would be a busy pedestrian concourse, the Registry was rising. To the east, two lecture-theatre blocks and a building for music were under construction. The shanty-town of contractors' huts would grow into a village as work began on a whole series of buildings - for English and Education, for Psychology and Geography, for Modern Languages and for History. In the same general area the Computer Centre was about to be extended and a bookshop was being planned. Across the Avon there was yet more activity - large extensions to the Students' Union, three blocks of University flats to house 144 - an innovation in student accommodation Bishop Julius Hall, an Anglican foundation for 110 women students. Plans for a warehouse and equipment store near the stadium were well advanced. All in all, more than a dozen separate buildings in course of erection in the centennial year would be an assurance that the division of the University was close to an end."

A History of the University of Canterbury 1873 - 1973. p.359


Aerial view - March 1975

"I have the impression that the Ilam campus, now that it has a population of up to 8000, has become a more lively, colourful and interesting place and that there is developing a distinct sense of community." Vice-Chancellor Professor Phillips

Chronicle 27 March 1975 (PDF943KB)

At the start of 1975 the population on the Ilam campus virtually doubled from 4000 to 8000. Still after just three weeks it appeared that all were settling in well. The geography of the place was becoming clear, staff and students occupying unfinished buildings were coping as cheerfully as possible, as were those still commuting from the city site.

Aerial view 2 - March 1975"On the whole Ilam strikes me as a more exhilarating place than it has ever been before."

Chronicle 27 March 1975 (PDF943KB)





Building List

Years of building to opening




1956 – 1957

School of Fine Arts (Okeover)

Collins & Son




Collins & Son


1957 – 1961

School of Engineering



1962 – 1966

Faculty of Science – Chemistry & Physics & Library




Faculty of Science – Lecture block & Maths/Psychology


$1, 142, 470


Faculty of Science – Geology, Botany, Zoology



1965 – 1966

Boiler House



1963 – 1969

School of Engineering extensions



1963 – 1964

Stage 1 Chemical



1964 – 1965

Stage 2 Mechanical



1964 – 1967

Stage 3 Civil & Electrical



1966 - 1967

Stage 4 Lecture Theatres



1967 – 1969

Stage 5 Chemical Main Extension



1965 – 1967

Stage 6 Lecture theatres and Library



1964 – 1967

Student Union

Warren & Mahoney


1964 – 1966

Christchurch College

Warren & Mahoney



Computer Centre

Hall & Mackenzie


1967 – 1968

Maintenance Workshop



1968 – 1970

School of Forestry

Hall & Mackenzie


1969 – 1971

Ilam Homestead conversion


$40,000 approx.

1969 – 1972

University Halls of Residence

Collins & Son

$1,034, 954

1969 – 1973

James Hight Library and Arts Tower


$3,000,000 approx.

1969 – 1972

Rochester Hall



1971 – 1972

Rutherford Hall



1972 – 1973



$167,000 approx.

1972 - 1975

Faculty of Arts – lecture theatres

Tengrove, Tengrove & Marshall

$575,000 approx.

1972 - 1975

Faculty of Arts – English and Education


$945,000 approx.

1972 - 1975

Faculty of Arts – Geography and Psychology laboratories and offices


$1,750,000 approx.

1972 - 1975


Hall & Mackenzie

$930,000 approx.

1972 - 1975

Bishop Julius Hall

G.E. Donnithorne

$450,000 approx.

1972 - 1975

University Flats


$400,000 approx.

1972 - 1975

Student Union Extensions

Warren & Mahoney

$850,000 approx.

Most information taken from A History of University of Canterbury 1873 - 1973.