Canterbury Provincial Government Buildings
2012 World Monuments Watch
With a vision to build a "Better Britain," 19th century colonial settlers to New Zealand constructed government buildings reminiscent of those in London, combining the English Gothic Revival style with local flourishes. The offices, towers, and council chambers were built of timber and stone and served as the seat of the Provincial Government of Canterbury until 1867, after which time the complex was used as governmental offices. The buildings, designed by architect Benjamin Mountfort, remained largely unchanged throughout the twentieth century, and make up one of the earliest Gothic Revival complexes of government buildings in the world. The evolution of the structures, in both form and function, reflect the history of Christchurch from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. In recent years the complex has been open to the public for tourism, educational use, and events, many of which were held in the exquisite High Victorian Stone Chamber. The devastating earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011 severely damaged the Stone Chamber and reduced much of the complex to ruins. The entire complex has been closed for safety reasons since February 2011. The Canterbury Provincial Government Buildings were placed on the 2012 World Monuments Watch.
Restoration as a catalyst in preserving this collective memory
Disaster-response efforts have understandably focused on the thousands of displaced Christchurch residents whose homes were severely damaged, as well as the rebuilding of critical infrastructure. Emergency stabilization efforts have been launched at the Canterbury Provincial Government Buildings, along with protection measures and deconstruction of damaged areas. The remaining decorative elements like stained glass windows, painted structural timbers, and others were retrieved and stored for conservation. Among the items remarkably salvaged from the Stone Chamber wreckage were the rare, original double faced clock that sat at the northern end of the Chamber and the Speaker’s chair designed in 1865 by the architect of the complex. With assistance from American Express, WMF supported the restoration and exhibition of these important artifacts to promote the future rebuilding of the Canterbury Provincial Government Buildings, helping to ensure that the buildings’ heritage lives on for generations to come.
The significance of the Canterbury Provincial Government Buildings was formally recognized as early as 1928, when through public pressure they were protected under the Canterbury Provincial Vesting Act, to be maintained as a memorial of the foundation of the Province of Canterbury. This was the first time that the New Zealand Government had passed legislation to protect an historic building. The Provincial Buildings are a tangible national reminder of the changing cultural, political, and governance structures from the period of European Victorian colonial settlement to the twenty first century. They are likewise a poignant symbol of the devastation suffered by the community in the seismic events of 2010 and 2011. The restoration of salvaged artifacts can serve as an important catalyst in preserving this collective memory and promoting the reconstruction of the complex.