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Beauty Behind Brutalism


Built as a new home for the Canterbury Society of Arts (founded 1880), the 1968 building was designed by Minson, Henning, Hansen and Dines in the "Christchurch Modern" style made famous by Sir Miles Warren, Peter Beaven and Paul Pascoe, and influenced by the British movement, "The New Brutalism". Following five years closure post quake and a $4.5 m refurbishment led by Pippin Wright-Stow, this iconic piece of Cantab brutalism is once more displaying art to the public.

What started out as a relatively straight forward quake repair became a major overhaul and rethink. The process has taken the structure back to its original classic concept. "We wanted to reinstate the original intent," says Wright-Stow, "but not strictly adhering to how it was before. There were lots of things that didn’t work."

Among the things that 'didn't work' was the 130 square metre 1970's rear addition which had been designed by different people and didn't move well with the rest of the building, knocking it in the back like a bad bustle in every aftershock. This has been demolished and replaced with rain shield cladding, an exit staircase and an outdoor project space. The original, highly striking, skew-pyramid, Georgian wired skylights have been completely rebuilt, double glazed and let in natural light once more (they had been painted out under an earlier exhibition methodology that insisted on artificial lighting exclusively). Soda-blasting has stripped extraneous white paint, revealing the sturdiness of concrete structural members and the warmth of wood and brass. Features long hidden by changing tastes and cheap compromises have once more been brought out.

Special attention, says Wright -Stow, was paid to the original techniques and detailing, to the point of getting in older builders familiar with them, including dome nuts and bushes in the hand rails, "to keep it feeling almost as though it was done just then. "To read the complete story of this refurbishment, you can pick up a copy of defign four at your local New World, Countdown or Paper Plus.