The Observatory Hotel and Observatory Tower, The Arts Centre of Christchurch

Observatory Hotel 12
Observatory Hotel 12

The most recent reconstruction/restoration project completed at the Arts Centre, and the final piece of the western precinct, this integrated collection of buildings was reconstructed and strengthened with a new purpose: a premium boutique hotel and functioning observatory.

The Observatory and Biology buildings were completed in 1896 - the last major designs by architect Benjamin Mountfort. In 1918 an infill building, Biology Extensions, was added. The Physics building, opened in 1917, was designed by Collins and Harman in a Gothic Revival style. The Observatory was built to house the equatorial telescope gifted to the College by James Townsend in 1871.

The project involved substantial repair and reconstruction of the Biology/Physics/Observatory buildings, refit and revitalisation of the interior spaces, and extensive seismic protection to the buildings for the future. The Observatory Tower was badly damaged by the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, its partial collapse requiring full demolition and reconstruction.

Wherever possible, original fabric was reused. Stones and bricks were cleaned, archived, and stored for reinstatement by the Arts Centre’s stonemasons. Stones for the tower walls were cut back to accommodate the new concrete core while retaining the original external dimensions. Where required, new blocks were carved from Oamaru stone and new bricks were manufactured locally. Timber joinery for the tower, which was largely destroyed, was reconstructed based on evidence of the original items and drawings.

The creation of a provocative and compelling hotel interior environment took cues from the restored building fabric while emphatically proposing a new, unexpected visitor experience unique to the building and its setting. The underlying concept for an ‘Art Hotel’ proposed by Arts Centre management was refined and extended by Jessica Close across the various reception/hospitality spaces and 33 rooms.

Awarded a Heritage award at the 2023 New Zealand Institute of Architects - Canterbury Architecture Awards, the jury said:

"Approaching the earthquake-wrought rubble of a cornerstone heritage building in a cornerstone heritage precinct is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

Reconstruction of a building such as this requires a level of respect that borders on devotion, and the project team has clearly taken this approach. The care taken and tireless archaeological response is heart-warming.

But beyond heritage, this building is an inspiring example of what can be achieved when a project is driven by an ambitious and innovative brief, and a strategic understanding of context. The architect’s response is thoughtful, respectful and injects vitality into an old building. More than that, the hotel is the cornerstone of a new, revitalised urban precinct. Inspiring."

Observatory Hotel 19
Observatory Hotel 11
Observatory Hotel 16
Observatory Hotel 14