History & heritage  |  17 Apr 2024

The architectural landscape of Christchurch looks very different to 100 years ago, with post-quake buildings like Tūranga reflecting our resilience and bicultural values.

A century ago, Cecil Wood was a leading New Zealand architect, designing some of Christchurch’s most iconic buildings – including the former State Insurance Building at 116 Worcester Street.

The building was designed in 1931, constructed in 1945-35 and opened on 20 August 1935, becoming a landmark for Cantabrians.

The architectural designs for the State building will be on display at a Tūranga exhibition, Drawing Connections, from 9 March to 19 May.

“We have a variety of original drawings in the exhibition, with the oldest from 1919 and others from the 1930s,” says Exhibition Curator and University of Canterbury Library Archivist, Erin Kimber.

“The plans are often proposals, so some of the drawings aren’t actually how the buildings ended up. Cecil Woods really was a visual artist, and this is shown through his craftsmanship on display,” says Ms Kimber.

The State Fire department occupied the ground floor, Lands and Deeds on the first and second and the Lands and Survey Department on the top two floors.

Its classical design incorporated stylised Māori motifs and influence from Art Deco styling, which was becoming popular in Napier after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.

The building was occupied by the Design & Arts College in recent times and was closed after being damaged in the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, and is now being restored.

“The current restoration of the State building is a testament to resilience and architectural preservation. It serves as a poignant reminder of our local contribution to the global architectural narrative,” says Ms Kimber.

 “The idea with this exhibition is that people will be in the Tūranga space and think how historic and contemporary architecture can co-exist.”

Drawing Connections - Exploring the architecture of Cecil Wood is an exhibition currently on at Tūranga’s Te Pito Huarewa / Southbase Gallery until 19 May.