Te Pae Center rebuilt in Christchurch
The Te Pae Center in Christchurch reopens to celebrate all New Zealanders
Thanks to architects Woods Bagot and Warren & Mahoney, and arts, culture and heritage advocate Puamiria Parata-Goodall, Christchurch’s Te Pae Convention and Exhibition Center reopens its doors
The Te Pae Convention and Exhibition Center, a popular cultural hub, was destroyed in the devastation of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Thanks to the efforts of local authorities and the wider community – the space has been identified as one of 11 ‘anchor projects’ vital to the city’s rebuilding – the popular local facility now has a new home. The space has just opened its doors to a design by architects Woods Bagot of Australia and Warren & Mahoney of New Zealand, in consultation with arts, culture and heritage advocate Puamiria Parata-Goodall, who worked for the Matapopore Charitable Trust and as Mana acted as whenua (meaning “people of the land” in Māori) voice in the city’s restoration to ensure that the First Nations Ngāi Tūāhuriri/Ngāi Tahu narratives are realized as part of Christchurch’s restoration.
The design is a striking, flowing building clad in around 43,000 individually designed and numbered cladding panels. It includes elements of craftsmanship and intelligent spatial planning, as well as rich cultural significance. “The ancestral bones of the Ngāi Tahu people are in this land. On the other side of the rebuilt city, the new Ōtautahi (Christchurch) reflects both its Ngāi Tahu and European history. Māori language, art and history are being recognized and celebrated like never before,” says Parata-Goodall.
The building’s flowing shape not only marks a departure from the typical “rectangular box” appearance of convention halls around the world, but also reflects New Zealand’s iconic Southern Alps – a key reference linking the building to its country. Its body faces the nearby river, connecting visitors to the waterfront. “From the inside, framed views curate the site for you. View from the event room back to the cathedral square; the opening to Victoria Square; the slope towards the river – these were very specific steps to bring the building strongly into connection with its surroundings,” says Bruno Mendes of Woods Bagot. “I think that’s what’s special about the project. You’re connected to Christchurch and it couldn’t be anywhere else.’
The goal, the architects point out, was for this building to represent everyone, so that it would appeal to both Māori and Pākehā (white) New Zealanders. In that promise, it was crucial to draw from the place and surrounding land to create an architecture inspired by the landscape and “the Ngāi Tahu traditions that explain the emergence of the landscape that is rich and diverse and ready for the human settlement,” they explain. The key cultural values used to develop the design were whakapapa (identity and connection to place); “Mana Motuhake” (independence and autonomy); ‘Manaakitanga’ (charity, hospitality, mutuality and respect for others); ‘Ture wairua’ (faith); and ‘mahinga kai’ (growing, gathering and using food). These themes are celebrated in displays and narratives inside the building.
At the same time, functionality is at the heart of the design. The intelligently furnished and comfortable building can accommodate up to 2,000 delegates at the same time. The main spaces inside are the 1,400-seat auditorium, the flexible shell of the exhibition hall, the more rigorous and minimalist administrative offices, and the vestibules. The wood paneling in the main lobby not only adds a nature-focused tone, but also references the country’s forests, underscoring once again how the project was conceived as a bridge between use and meaning. §