Architect appointed for strengthening and upgrade of the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre

Friday 3, August 2018 | News |

The Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre is a step closer to opening its doors now Rotorua Lakes Council has appointed an architect to carry out the work.

Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre Concept design 2. Courtesy of Shand Shelton

Following a competitive detailed tender process, Council has appointed Shand Shelton to complete the design for the seismic strengthening and refurbishment of the building.

The category one heritage building, situated in the heart of Rotorua’s CBD, closed in November last year, when a seismic assessment identified the building was earthquake prone. At the same time, a detailed business case had just been completed giving clear direction for changes needed to ensure optimal use of the centre for performing arts.

Rotorua Lakes Council’s Arts and Culture manager, Stewart Brown, said the project team was impressed with Shand Shelton’s focus on improving and enhancing the spaces for performing arts – from acoustic design through to easy operation, flexibility of spaces and high quality theatre services. As a firm that specialises in theatre design, they also have an impressive track record of working in performing arts spaces and heritage buildings.

SHMPAC Concept Designs Civic Theatre. Courtesy of Shand Shelton

“Key elements of the design which really stood out included Shand Shelton’s hugely respectful treatment of the building’s original heritage features, its strong use of wood throughout, and the way the team integrated and connected all the spaces with uniquely Rotorua stories,” said Mr Brown.

“We are really confident, that when the project is completed, we will have a fantastic building where our local performing arts groups can showcase their talents, and a facility that will enable Rotorua to attract many of the top quality touring shows from around the country and internationally,” he said.

The Sir Howard Morrison Centre stage one enhancements will include:

  • upgrade of the Concert Chamber to a flexible performance space able to seat 100 to 300 people
  • upgrade and extension of the Civic Theatre to 1,000 seats
  • general refurbishment of the main foyer, Banquet Room, and other spaces
  • refurbishment of the building exterior, and external landscaping and lighting

“Our design seeks to weave together the past and the future in wood, stone and glass. Working with iwi and whānau we hope to capture the spirit of Rotorua in a building that will resonate with performers and patrons alike.  We are cognisant of both the privilege and the responsibility a project like this entails,” says Roger Shand of Shand Shelton.  

During the recent long term planning round, Rotorua Lakes Council agreed to commit $4.5million towards the seismic strengthening of the Sir Howard Morrison Centre, with the balance of funds for the project to be sourced externally. The project team has already had additional funding commitments of $6million and is working hard to reach the estimated stage one project cost of $18million.

Earlier this year Sir Owen Glenn pledged $3million towards the project, Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust has committed $1.5million and New Zealand Community Trust has approved $750,000. Further commitments in principle totalling $750,000 have been received from a number of other trusts.

The Shand Shelton concept design also included a further stage two option, to replace the curved Banquet Room with a built-for-purpose performance space, storage space, and truck dock. Stage two will only be undertaken if the additional estimated ­­funding of $4.8million can also be sourced externally.

Since 2014, when the focus of use for the Sir Howard Morrison Centre changed from business events to performing arts, extensive consultation has taken place, particularly with existing and potential users of the venue.

President of Rotorua Musical Theatre, Natasha Benfell, said ‘As one of the biggest local users of the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre, we are looking forward to the continued progress Council are making to give us a safe and functional work space. We have attended, where possible, all of the discussions with Council and felt very included in the process and it has been a long one. An upgrade to provide the community with the best possible outcome has been an enormous project. We have tried to convey our personal requirements and hope that the end result will reflect a space we can all be proud of.’

In addition to the stakeholder consultation, a business case was also completed, which explored a range of options for the investment in the development of the centre – from simple seismic strengthening to a complete rebuild.

Information from the business case and the broad community and stakeholder engagement, has been key in both developing the design brief for the refurbishment, and also in the selection process for the successful concept design.

The tender process, to select the architect, received nine expressions of interest, which were narrowed down to two companies. The two architects were asked to put forward concept designs for the Sir Howard Morrison Centre. The architects were asked to design a contemporary fit-for-purpose performing arts centre, reflecting Rotorua’s identity, with flexible spaces for both smaller niche productions through to large mainstream shows.

The design phase is expected to take the remainder of this year with construction due to start in the first half of 2019.