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University unveiled in Open Christchurch

29 April 2021

Explore the nooks and crannies of Jack, James, Ernest, Beatrice and parts of the original city campus including the new ‘Old Chemistry’, as the 147-year-old University of Canterbury (UC) opens its architecturally designed doors for Open Christchurch weekend, 15-16 May. Open Christchurch is a one-weekend-only festival of exceptional architecture. It’s for everyone to experience great building design from the inside, for free.


Jack Erskine building (UC Ilam campus)

ARCHITECT: Architectus, Cook Hitchcock Sargeson & Perry Royal, 1994

This refined, cellular structure is a contemporary salute to modernist architectural history. It was designed to house the University of Canterbury’s School of Mathematics & Statistics and Computer Sciences department and, fittingly, the building is superbly detailed. Functions are divided out into offices and teaching areas, with the former in timber-clad research cells – a reference to the famous Salk Institute designed by Louis Kahn. Exposed concrete and glazed walls pay homage to the other modernist buildings on campus, while the large atrium provides cohesion.

On-demand tours on Sunday, 11am to 2pm, of Jack Erskine will start from the ground floor foyer, which is also where an exhibition will be located.


Ernest Rutherford building (UC Ilam campus)

ARCHITECT: Jasmax, 2019

A unique response to both its function and a strong cultural narrative, the Ernest Rutherford Building unusually houses 6 different scientific disciplines in its X-chromosome-shaped structure while reflecting mana whenua’s sense of place. The breath-taking atrium best expresses the concept of te ara a Tāwhaki (a pathway to knowledge) and the Māori god Tāwhaki’s ascent through the learning levels with its spectacular vertical emphasis. This timber-lined space unifies the variety of services housed in the building without compromising sound levels. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opened the building named for UC’s famous alumnus in 2018, with Professor Mary Fowler, great-granddaughter of Lord Rutherford, as guest of honour.

UC’s Ernest Rutherford building will run two engineering-focused tours on Sunday, 11am to 2pm, – one at 11am and one at 12pm. As part of these tours UC will take the attendees through the Beatrice Tinsley building, which opened in 2019.


Puaka-James Hight (Central Library) building (UC Ilam campus)

ARCHITECT: Ministry of Works, 1969-74

This 53-metre-tall beacon of brutalism can be seen from many parts of the city, signalling its commitment to knowledge and modernism far and wide. The form fits the function in this imposing structure of confronting and exposed concrete, as seen in its legibility, interior flow and the longevity of its use: it was designed as, and remains, an academic library. This tower on a podium rewards closer inspection: don’t miss the strong sculptural elements, such as stairs dramatically floating over water or the oversized exterior balustrades. In 2018, the UC Library building won an enduring excellence award.

On-demand tours on Sunday, 11am to 2pm. Self-guided tours – pick up an information sheet and map. Display on level 2.


College House, independent UC Hall of Residence (100 Waimairi Rd, Upper Riccarton)

ARCHITECT: Warren and Mahoney, 1964-67

The culmination of his ideas, Sir Miles Warren deemed College House his best building. Through the application of everyday, modernist materials – concrete block, exposed concrete beams and lintels – and his inimitable aesthetic and ability to create order out of a complex system, Sir Miles designed not just a dormitory, but a community, complete with dining hall, common rooms and outdoor spaces, all grouped tightly together to encourage connection.

The Oxbridge tradition of quads and halls melds with modernism in an effortless yet sophisticated display from a master, with a nod to Gothic Revival style in the reverse pitched copper roofs of the dining hall and chapel.

College House will have tours on the hour. First in, first served.

Meanwhile, the University’s original town site and buildings of its 1876-1973 campus (then Canterbury College) is also open, including the current UC Arts city location. Now well known as the Arts Centre, the University of Canterbury gifted its century-old town site to the people of Christchurch in 1973. (The beautiful hand-drawn architectural designs and information about their Gothic Revival style are free to view on the UC website.)


The Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities (Old Chemistry building)

ARCHITECT: Collins & Harman, 1910

As you approach the Old Chemistry Building, take in the turreted tower, oriel or bay window and decorative roof ridging – these signal the importance the sciences had gained by the time this was built. Soon after, chemistry became the largest university department and included labs, a lecture room, prep room and a basement for storing chemicals – and for the occasional winter game of cricket. The roof’s steep pitch provides a loftiness to be equalled by student aspirations; the building’s materials showcase the regional quarry industry.

UC’s Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities will welcome visitors attending Open Christchurch.

The UC Arts city campus building, ‘Old Chemistry’ will be accessible Saturday, 10am-3pm. Visitors will be able to access the ground floor only, and view the Teece Museum. In association with Open CHCH, there will be a few special guided tours of the building on one day of the festival, for groups of 10-12 people at a time, every hour (11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm). At all other times, Open CHCH visitors will be able to access only the entrance foyer, and the Teece Museum. 


  • Open Christchurch 2021 is brought to you by Te Pūtahi, with support from Christchurch City Council and event partner, the New Zealand Institute of Architects. See more:
Beatrice Tinsley Building-1
College of Fine Arts & Music-1
Ernest Rutherford building
Jack Erskine-1
Puaka-James Hight-4
UC Arts old Chemistry
UC Ernest Rutherford south

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