Te Kanawa backs Christchurch Town Hall

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

Opera diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa has backed a campaign to save the Christchurch Town Hall.

With the fate of the 40-year-old building hanging in the balance, Te Kanawa has joined forces with the Keep Our Town Hall group to lobby for its repair.

Writing in support of saving the town hall, Te Kanawa said her career had taken her to concert halls all over the world and the town hall was "right up there" with the best.

"I have performed in the Christchurch Town Hall several times and each performance left me with a sense of pride about the wonderful town hall concert environment and the excellent acoustics," she said.

"I know that if this venue was lost it would be felt by all who have performed and attended performances there over the years."

A Christchurch City Council report on whether any part of the town hall can be saved is due to be published this month.

The Warren and Mahoney-designed building has been closed since being damaged in the February 2011 earthquake. Most of the damage was caused by land movement rather than structural problems as a result of shaking during the quake.

The ground has settled and lateral spread has shifted the foundations of the building, with some parts of it moving 150 millimetres towards the river. The level of the floor in the auditorium now varies by up to 450mm.

Engineers have spent more than a year evaluating the building and assessing options for saving parts of it. They are now ready to deliver their verdict.

Duncan Craig, of the Keep Our Town Hall group, whose members include Sir Miles Warren, Maurice Mahoney and Associate Professor Ian Lochhead, said they were concerned the building would be demolished for narrow pragmatic reasons.

"We believe the Christchurch Town Hall is of such architectural and cultural significance that every effort should be made to ensure its survival," Craig said.

"Since it opened in 1972, the Christchurch Town Hall has become recognised as one of the world's finest concert venues. It deserves to be enjoyed for more than just 40 years."

The group has been drumming up support for the retention of the town hall and has received about 70 letters of support from high-profile figures in the arts world, many of whom have been associated with the town hall over the years.

The letters will be presented to the council's community recreation and culture committee on October 30 when it meets to consider the building's fate.

Lochhead said repairing the town hall would be "technically challenging and costly" but it was unlikely that a new facility could be built that would match it for the quality of its acoustic or its design excellence.

"While the temptation of commissioning a glossy new town hall will no doubt be attractive to our city councillors, they should resist the blandishments of consultants eager to sell a dazzling new concept and remember that we already have a world-beating concert hall, if only we have the courage to fix it and make it live again," he said.

Cr Helen Broughton, who this week led a council push to try to save Cranmer Courts, said she would not let the town hall go without a fight as it was the only remaining modern building in Christchurch's city centre with a group 1 heritage listing and hence of critical importance.

Citizens want rebuild

Fixing the Christchurch Town Hall is a priority for many city residents.

A local issues survey conducted for The Press by Opinions Market Research this year showed 87 per cent of those polled believed rebuilding the Town Hall should be one of the top priorities.

It was ranked as a significantly higher priority than a new rugby stadium.

The design of the Town Hall resulted from one of the largest architectural competitions conducted here and the building is still held up today as one of the finest examples of modern architecture in New Zealand.

Canterbury University associate professor of art history Ian Lochhead said that for anyone who had attended a concert, school prizegiving or university graduation at the Town Hall, it was more than just a building.

"‘It has become for thousands of people in Christchurch and Canterbury our public living room, the place where we come together to share and celebrate the important events in the lives of families and our community as a whole," he said.

"For these reasons alone, the Town Hall is worth making every effort we possibly can to save."

The Press