The theatre perfect: How can the Saint James Theatre be authentically adapted to enhance the cultural life of Auckland?

Thumbnail Image
Other Title
Chen, Peter Tian-sun
Author ORCID Profiles (clickable)
Master of Architecture (Professional)
Unitec Institute of Technology
McConchie, Graeme
Moore, Cameron
Masters Thesis
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
St James Theatre (Auckland, N.Z.)
Auckland (N.Z.)
New Zealand
cultural identity
public spaces
revitalising abandoned buildings
urban regeneration
local history
ANZSRC Field of Research Code (2020)
Chen, P. T.-S. (2022). The theatre perfect: How can the Saint James Theatre be authentically adapted to enhance the cultural life of Auckland? (Unpublished document submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Architecture (Professional)). Unitec Institute of Technology, New Zealand.
The St James Theatre was built in 1928 where it was a major part of Auckland city’s social life. However, in the past two decades, the building has fallen out of maintenance mostly due to the fire damage suffered in 2007, causing the building to be uninhabitable. The building is a Class 1 heritage site. The goal of this project is to authentically adapt the St. James Theatre to enhance the cultural life of Auckland today. There are two goals in order to achieve this. First, to give the site new life and to attract people to regenerate this area of the city. Second, to keep the physical and historical essence of the building. Authenticity means embracing what remains of the fabric of the building. The original fabric tells the truth about the original design and construction of the building. Evidence of the original work should be respected, repaired, and any new work should be harmonious in order to reveal the tradition and culture behind the design of the building. This project will focus on how this restorative approach can be applied to the building to enhance its cultural identity. Authenticity also determines the program. To respect the heritage of the site is to restore St. James as it once was, a theatre, and to also acknowledge the era when it was home to both the Odeon and West-End Theatre by designing an outdoor theatre that is both new but also a continuation of what existed. The outdoor theatre nods to the nostalgia of these now demolished theatres. The historical perspective that is being attempted to be captured in this project extends beyond the St. James back to pre-colonial times. This means telling the story of the Waihorotiu stream and the iwi that inhabited Tamaki Auckland. This connects us to the Te Aranga design principles, which deepen the “sense of place” of New Zealand and the land of the Mana Whenua, establishing a uniquely characteristic New Zealand experience. That is, the Auckland central cultural identity. Old streetscapes and buildings all have rich characteristics that define a city. Keeping that truth and authenticity is important for the heritage of the city. The St. James has evolved over time and is now hemmed in between apartment buildings of various periods. Queen Street and Lorne Street have a very mixed character themselves; they are a record of a time and place. Designing the St James with an appreciation and understanding of its architectural history will create a more authentic experience for the visitor, which in turn helps authentically regenerate the cultural identity of Auckland.
Link to ePress publication
Copyright holder
Copyright notice
All rights reserved
Copyright license
Available online at