Restoration of the Heritage Edwardian Theatre


The Canterbury earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 did immense damage to the superb Edwardian-style Isaac Theatre Royal, recognised as one of Aotearoa, New Zealand’s premier venues for the performing arts.

Extensive earthquake strengthening work undertaken in 1998 – 1999 saved the heritage building from complete collapse, but some significant deconstruction was required to secure and protect the key interior and exterior heritage elements.

The project was significantly more elaborate in design and complexity of construction than originally estimated with the Theatre being rebuilt from façade to proscenium arch.  The back of house and stage house that had been newly built in 2004/05 suffered only moderate damage and were repaired, but the 1908 auditorium and 1928 foyer spaces were beyond repair due to their dangerous original unreinforced masonry walls.


The rebuild and restoration faced 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$40 million.

Similar to the Christchurch Town Hall restoration project in which we were also involved, the Isaac Theatre project had significant heritage elements that had to be protected.  The survey control and monitoring marks had to be carefully selected and constructed, including temporary marks, to avoid or minimise the potential for damage to any heritage elements.


The superbly restored and revitalised theatre reopened on 17 November 2014 with many of its original Edwardian features intact, having achieved 100 per cent of the new earthquake building code.

“This incredible project has returned the Grand Old Lady of Christchurch theatre to her original Edwardian interior splendour, as well as significantly upgrading the theatre's public spaces and technically enhancing and future-proofing the venue for many generations to come,” Isaac Theatre Royal Chief Executive Neil Cox said. 

"It was a significant effort from start to finish with a very talented and dedicated team of design consultants, all of whom became as passionate and excited about the rebuild and restoration as ourselves.”

The Isaac Theatre Royal restoration won top prizes in the 2015 Property Council New Zealand and Rider Levett Bucknall Awards – gold in the Hawkins Heritage and Adaptive Reuses Award category and merit in the Coffey Education and Arts Property category.  It was also recognised in the Property Council of New Zealand Southern Excellence Awards 2015, the Best Project Team Award deservedly falling to the Isaac Theatre Royal, Warren and Mahoney, RCP, Naylor Love and team. The restoration also won a Canterbury Heritage Award in the category of Public Realm Saved & Restored.

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