The Town Hall belongs to everyone

22:33, Nov 28 2013
town hall 1975
CONCERT HALL: The Town Hall auditorium hosts the Christchurch Primary Schools Music Festival on September 25, 1975.

Our democratically chosen representatives, the Christchurch City Council, have unanimously voted for full retention of our city's civic facility the Christchurch Town Hall.

Some will be biffing their would-be toys out of their would-be precincts. On that note, 'precinct' should be banned from the Cantab vocab. What are we - in a never-ending episode of Hill Street Blues?

The Press has previously published opinion pieces from members of the arts community including Felicity Price, who has been on the board of the Court Theatre and the CSO, and young conductor, Luke Di Somma.

Both stated that they wished to retain the auditorium because of its world-respected acoustics, but both would quite like to ditch the James Hay, Limes Room and Boaters Restaurant.

Price wrote: ''The Christchurch City Council's proposed vote in favour of keeping the lot will deprive Christchurch of the Arts Precinct it not only deserves but badly needs. It was all there in the Cera Blueprint - a new, purpose-built concert auditorium, a new Court Theatre, a new Music Centre, and a home for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra...''

But I think the clue is in the title of this particular civic building, the word ''town''. The building is not called the Christchurch CSO Hall or the Christchurch Court Theatre Hall.


While these organisations are a vital part of our arts community, and deserve the support of our community, their views on the Town Hall's future should be given no more prominence that the opinions of our region's butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.

The Christchurch Town Hall does not belong to the arts community, it belongs to everyone.

The Christchurch Town Hall was not built to just cater to the needs of the CSO, the Court Theatre or any other segment of the community who might want to do jazz hands.

It is a civic building, built to cater to the many and varied needs of all of the people of this city.

Generally there seems to be some confusion and distrust around repair figures with popular opinion being that the Town Hall is ''ugly'' and ''old'' and the rebuild will be likely to go over budget.

But by the same token, there's concern that the arts precinct will take longer than planned to construct, go over budget and there is a lack of certainty that what will emerge will be world class.

In the same way some sectors of our society assume youth is more desirable than experience, there's an assumption that a sparkling new arts precinct would automatically be an improvement on a rebuilt Town Hall but history would warn us to be mindful of such assumptions.

The recommendation is that the Town Hall is to be fully repaired at a cost of around $127.5 million with around $40 million to be spent on a new arts precinct to house space for the CSO, Court Theatre and the Christchurch Centre for Music.

I believe the venues should be council owned and privately managed, meaning that the people ofChristchurch own the buildings and the management companies pay a lease back to the council.

Any live entertainment construction and design must have consultation from leaders in production companies, sound engineers, event managers and promoters, hospitality, tour managers and the artists themselves.

There is an amazing opportunity to build world-class facilities and make it an enjoyable, approachable and technically on point venue, which will attract people into Christchurch and build inspiration.

Regarding the proposed arts precinct, it needs more thought to cater for different demographics. Hopefully consultation to leaders in their field will be of prime importance.

There are exciting technologies available including holograms, RFID, video mapping and so on which all enhance the evolution of live performance.

While I'm sure the rebuild intentions are positive, it will be interesting to see the next steps.

In our Town Hall we currently have an internationally recognised venue with a full repair plan and money set aside to pay for it, so it's fair to compare it to similar projects.

How much does a decent concert hall cost elsewhere?

Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University cost $US111.9 million to build, and, seating 842, it opened in January.

The Concert Hall in Copenhagen, albeit a national concert hall, is smaller than our Town Hall and cost $US300 million dollars. From the start of construction it took six years to build and opened in 2009.

At the other end of the price scale, Japan invented the world's first inflatable, mobile, concert hall, Ark Nova.

Ark Nova was a collaboration between Arata Isozaki, sound designer Yasuhisa Toyota, Kajimoto Agency and sculptor Amish Kapoor. The design process started in 2011 as a low-cost solution to holding travelling relief concerts after tsunamis ravaged Japan's Miyagi Prefecture.

The organic structure takes just two hours to inflate, seats around 500 people with a maximum capacity of 700 and wood from tsunami-damaged cedar trees at the Zuiganji Temple in Matsushima was recycled to build seating and acoustic reflectors in its interior.

Ark Nova held its first concert in October - a performance by a symphony orchestra.

Whatever the final outcome for the Town Hall and what the future shape of our civic communal living room is, the debate does not belong simply to one vocal sector of our arts community, but to all Christchurchresidents.

The Press