The Isaac Theatre Royal (ITR) was subjected to severe shaking during the earthquakes of 22nd February and 13th June 2011 and sustained considerable damage; this damage was exacerbated by the constant and frequent aftershocks throughout 2011 and subsequent significant earthquake of 23rd December 2011.
The Back of House and Stage House which were newly built in 2004/05, suffered only moderate damage and were repaired, but the 1908 auditorium and 1928 foyer spaces were not considered repairable in their original form, due to the dangerous nature of the original unreinforced masonry walls. It was noteworthy that the structural earthquake strengthening carried out in 1999/2000 prevented complete collapse of the Theatre and enabled the retrieval and salvage of key heritage items and stabilisation of the Edwardian façade prior to deconstruction. All heritage fabric has been retained, restored and/or reinstated.
The design has achieved 100% of new earthquake building code with the original style and finesse of the original “Grand Old Lady” of Canterbury theatre being maintained throughout, but with various technical and design enhancements necessary to provide Christchurch with a world class theatrical experience for future decades in the strongest and safest performance venue in New Zealand.
The ITR has long been the premiere performing arts venue in Canterbury, a region which polls consistently show has the second highest number of attendees at performing arts in New Zealand. A healthy arts sector is integral to a diverse and exciting community. The Isaac Theatre Royal’s rebuild plays a key role in the recovery of our city and region, especially in the performing arts sector, and is highly regarded as an inspirational example of hope in the emotional mind-set of Cantabrians.
The Theatre re-opened on 17 November 2014. The project was significantly more elaborate in design and complexity of construction than originally estimated with the Theatre essentially being rebuilt from Façade to Proscenium Arch. The rebuild and restoration had significant challenges throughout, making it one of the most intricate building projects in the earthquake damaged Christchurch CBD with an overall rebuild cost of NZ$40M.
The main areas damaged in the earthquakes comprised the auditorium, orchestra pit, foyer spaces, egress routes, mechanical systems and theatre management offices and kitchen above the tenanted restaurant space below. The damage sustained included:
- Partial collapse of the walls and decorative plaster ceilings in the auditorium and foyer spaces
- ubsidence of the foundations supporting the side walls and floor to the auditorium
- Uplift and flooding of the orchestra pit from liquefaction pressure
- Partial collapse of the first floor office walls and roof parapets above New Regent Street
- Significant damage to the Heritage façade, painted canvas ceiling dome and western boundary wall
- Damage to building services including heating, ventilation, lighting and fire safety systems
- The stage house, side of stage, backstage and dressing rooms also sustained damage albeit to a far lesser extent due to the fact they were built in 2004/05 to much higher standards of earthquake resistance.
Reconstruction and Repair
The ITR appointed RCP (Project Managers), Naylor Love (Construction), Warren & Mahoney (Architectural) and a team of engineers including Holmes Consulting Group (Structural & Fire), Powell Fenwick (Mechanical & Hydraulic), Tony Ussher (Heritage Architect), Neil Pritchard (Electrical), Rawlinson’s (QS), Hang Up & Robe Peters (Technical), Plaster Services (Ornate plasterwork) and Carolina Izzo (Heritage restoration) plus a team of specific experts in telecommunications, geotechnical and accessibility design for the rebuild/repair works.
The reconstruction was required to comply with increased and more stringent building standards with respect to increased earthquake resistance, fire protection, egress and accessibility. The heritage restoration of the ITR is extremely important to the city with so many historic buildings already demolished. The restoration team has worked closely with NZ Heritage and Christchurch City Council’s Heritage Team to either preserve or faithfully replicate the original interior heritage fabric so that the historic venue looks substantially the same as it did prior to 2011.
The repairs include:
- Restoration, new foundations and structural strengthening of the original 1908 heritage façade
- Complete replacement to new building codes of the auditorium, foyers, and western egress
- Restoration and reinstatement of the original key heritage items:
- Painted Original 1908 Canvas Auditorium Ceiling Dome
- Royal Boxes on either side of the Proscenium Arch
- Leadlight interior “Poppy” windows and original leadlight Façade windows
- Complete retention of the Marble Staircase between Stalls and Circle Foyers
- Restoration (where possible), or replication of the ornate and decorative plaster work, doors and windows throughout the auditorium and foyer spaces
Replication of the first floor façade, walls and roof over the previous tenanted space.
Repairs and replacement of the auditorium lighting, air conditioning, theatre seating and venue services
See photos of the Theatre Rebuild.
Improvements and Enhancements
In conjunction with the repair works, a number of improvements to the services and amenities of the ITR, include:
- An extendable stage via installation of a hydraulic pit-lift across the width of the proscenium extending the stage into the auditorium by 2.5m to vastly improve the suitability for orchestras (CSO, NZSO etc) to perform on stage.
- New foyer and function space in the upper (newly named) Grand Circle level and enhanced Stalls and Circle foyers
- Extended washroom & WC facilities on all levels with increased accessibility throughout.
- New multi-functional performance and hospitality space adjoining the Dress Circle foyer replacing previous Theatre Management office space, allowing extended hosting capabilities and creating an additional space for functions, performance and meetings.
- Improved accessibility facilities for disabled patrons including an elevator to all foyers on all floors
- New and relocated office space for Theatre Management above Western egress space
- New box office ticket sales area adjacent to the Stalls foyer entrance with increased/improved bar facilities and public foyer space on all floors
- Technical enhancements, upgraded lighting, surround-sound cinema capability including digital projector & screen
- Facility for a café/restaurant/hospitality tenancy below the new multi-function space
Restoration of the Dome
The restoration of the original 1908 painted canvas auditorium ceiling dome was a major part of the reconstruction of the Theatre. Years of cigarette smoke and grime, coupled with some weather damage due to the inaccessibility of the Theatre after the earthquakes, mould and singeing from light bulbs made for a challenging restoration.
The project was lead by Carolina Izzo, an internationally renowned, Wellington-based conservator who trained in Florence, Italy, with more than sixteen years’ experience working on earthquake-damaged objects.
See photos of the Dome restoration.
Read more about the restoration in this article from the Christchurch Art Gallery’s Bulletin magazine.