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May 2023 marked one year since Te Pae Convention Centre in Christchurch hosted its inaugural event. Since then, it has welcomed more than 130,000 delegates and quickly become a local landmark, contributing to the city’s physical and psychic repair twelve years on from the devastating 2011 earthquakes.
Te Pae has helped to mend a major hole left in the Christchurch fabric by the great tectonic tear of the 2011 quakes. The civic-scale structure has helped not only to physically, but psychically repair the damage that remained in its wake, with a design that speaks to place, both geographically and spiritually.
Four years in the making, the 28,000-square-metre Te Pae was completed in 2022, designed by Woods Bagot with Warren and Mahoney.
After opening to the public in early 2022, May marked one year since the centre’s first conference, with the centre now clocking over 300 events to date, hosting a total of more than 130,000 delegates.
According to Te Pae general manager Ross Steele, Te Pae has already generated over $60 million for the Christchurch region, prompting around 90,000 overnight stays in local hotels over the last financial year – enough to fill a 250-room hotel for every night of the year.
“Te Pae was a cornerstone project, so it was always going to be vital to the regeneration of the city,” says Steele. “It’s a huge boon for community as much as it is a driver for economic revenue.”
Steele adds that Te Pae has helped to connect the city’s businesses and infrastructure with the arrival of external visitors, from the hotels, hairdressers, to bars and restaurants.
“The economic impact has been significant – it’s been very busy from the opening – and it’s smoothed out a whole range of seasonality from a visitor point of view; where the winters were a quiet time of year, they’re now our busy time.
“Te Pae has opened up opportunities, not only for larger events to come back to Christchurch, but it’s also opened up the opportunity for us to chase bigger events internationally, to bring people to Christchurch, and to continue to grow the city,” says Steele.
Steele adds the centre’s design has garnered a new sense of local identity and helped to reaffirm Māori sovereignty. For Christchurch, the road to recovery is paved in 43,000 tiles, each individually numbered and placed in an ornate herringbone arrangement wrapping the building facade, with tones and textures inspired by the rich palette of the natural landscape.
“It gives the Christchurch people a chance to puff their chests out again and be proud of their city,” he says. “There’s regionality to the design, where the architectural narrative around the braided rivers is built into the physical form. It gives the locals a sense of pride, but it also gives visitors the sense of coming to a destination, and a story that connects the building to place.”
From the naming conventions (“Te Pae” literally meaning “gathering place” in te reo Māori), to the connection to local iwi, to the regionally sourced food philosophy and operations, Te Pae is architecture and an organisation that is truly of its place.
“The design team liaising with Matapopore, and really listening – not just paying lip service – has made a huge difference in our building,” says Steele.
Puamiria Parata-Goodall, a descendant of the local Ngāi Tahu people, said the centre has been a conduit for new conversations, prompting a dialogue that that never took place before the disaster. Parata-Goodall worked with the Matapopore Charitable Trust, acting as the mana whenua (people of the land) and providing cultural guidance to Bruno Mendes and the design team through the process.
“The ancestral bones of the Ngāi Tahu people are in this land. Across the rebuilt city, the new Ōtautahi (Christchurch) reflects both its Ngāi Tahu and European history. Māori language, art, and stories are recognised and celebrated like they haven’t been before,” Parata-Goodall tells ArchDaily. “My ancestors have their voice back again in our landscape.”
Since its opening, Te Pae has also pledged to commit to carbon neutrality by the end of 2024. Currently in its ‘measurement and monitoring’ phase, the building is presently powered by 100 percent green power. Following a period of monitoring carbon usage, the venue will commit to carbon neutrality by end of year 2024, before taking the next step in its sustainability journey and entering a carbon reduction phase the following year.
Though operational little more than a year, Te Pae is already a deeply contextual cultural landmark, restoring certainty and optimism to a once precarious future.
Te Pae was recently shortlisted for the 2023 World Architecture Festival for the ‘Completed Buildings – Culture’ category. Read more here.
Content and Communications Specialist (Australia & New Zealand)
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