History & heritage  |  26 Jun 2019

Are you curious about the amazing playground on the roof of Cathedral Grammar, a dining hall at Christ’s College that mirrors Hogwarts, and Christchurch’s only vertical school, Ao Tawhiti?

All three stunning central city school buildings will open their doors to the public as part of a new architecture events programme that starts this month.

Presented by Te Pūtahi – an independent group that promotes city-making – Open Christchurch invites people of all ages to go back to school to engage with design. It offers one-off, free access to the buildings, along with guided walks that explore central spaces and exteriors.

Christ's College Memorial Dining Hall.

Christ's College Memorial Dining Hall. Photo: Ian Kelly – Horizon Images

Eleven events will be held over 11 weeks, starting on Sunday, 30 June with a visit to The Cathedral Grammar Junior School rooftop, several classrooms and the common room in the multi-award-winning timber building.

Te Pūtahi Director Dr Jessica Halliday, an architectural historian, says the organisation wants to “make it easy, desirable and fun for everybody to get involved in the shaping and enjoyment of Christchurch”.

It is the first time that public access has been granted to all three high-profile school sites.

Dr Halliday says that educational buildings are helping shape children's experience of school – their learning, socialisation, ideas of tradition, and interaction with the world and other people.

“Yet these three buildings are incredibly different from each other,” she says.

“They are different scales, different architectural styles, have different plans, different uses, are constructed from different materials and, therefore, create different daily experiences for the children, parents, teachers and other school staff.”

Dr Halliday hopes that people experience all three, being open to comparisons and connections.

These buildings “tell us about people's and society's values – what was important to the people who commissioned them and what was important to the people who designed them”.

Dr Halliday points out that “well-designed buildings and public spaces can improve our lives”.

“We're offering people the opportunity to have a direct experience of these works of architecture to encourage them to debate what ‘well-designed’ means, to enter into public dialogue and, ultimately, contribute to shaping the decisions made about our places and cities,” she says.

While the buildings are open to all ages, the eight 90-minute guided walks around city streets are more suitable for adults and older children.

The themed $5 walks include seismic engineering, the Ngāi Tahu identity, arts and culture, bars, historic treasures, public buildings, commercial and retail architecture, and riverside public spaces.

Open Christchurch – Discover Your City Through Architecture runs from 30 June until 7 September.

People can visit the Christ’s College Memorial Dining Hall for free on Sunday, 4 August and Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery on Saturday, 7 September.

The Council has provided support for the programme.

Ao Tawhiti Discovery School. Photo: Patrick Reynolds

Ao Tawhiti Discovery School. Photo: Patrick Reynolds