Hannah Playhouse, a cultural landmark nestled at the intersection of Courtenay Place and Cambridge Terrace in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, has been listed as a Category 1 historic place on the New Zealand Heritage List Rārangi Kōrero, coinciding with the building’s 50 th year.
The designation recognises its profound historical and architectural significance.
Designed by renowned New Zealand architect James Beard (1924-2017) and completed in 1973, Hannah Playhouse holds a unique place in Aotearoa New Zealand’s cultural heritage.
Hannah Playhouse is in an area of Te Whanganui-a-Tara that was the focus of significant Māori settlement for centuries. The whenua retains enduring cultural values. The building’s prominent presence in central Wellington, characterised by striking Brutalist design, including two boldly articulated façades and an asymmetrical wedge-shaped roof volume, solidifies its status as an architectural gem.
Hannah Playhouse is celebrated as a key exemplar of Aotearoa New Zealand modernist architecture and has garnered numerous regional and national architecture awards.
Its historical significance is underscored by its close association with the Downstage Theatre company, which called Hannah Playhouse home for many years until 2013.
The theatre has served as a creative hub for Capital E, the National Theatre for Children, and as a venue used by the likes of leading Māori theatre company Taki Rua. Hannah Playhouse has a critically important place in the history of Aotearoa New Zealand theatre, as a place where the careers of local actors, directors and playwrights were launched and sustained, making it a vital space for artistic expression in the centre of the nation’s ‘creative capital’.
During the public submission phase of the listing process, the proposed listing of Hannah Playhouse received support from the community and those closely involved with the building and its use over the years.
Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Central Region Director, Dr Jamie Jacobs, acknowledged the significance of recognising a 50-year-old building as heritage.
“We are pleased to announce the listing of Hannah Playhouse as a Category 1 historic place on the New Zealand Heritage List Rārangi Kōrero. Its 50th anniversary is not only a milestone for this remarkable structure but marks a new era in heritage listings.
“Hannah Playhouse’s recognition as a modern building of such historical significance ushers in a new age of heritage appreciation. It invites us to celebrate the stories and memories woven into the very fabric of our contemporary architectural treasures.”
While a small number of opposing submissions were received, these concerns were thoroughly examined and weighed against the heritage value of the building and the support the proposed listing garnered.
The outcome of this rigorous assessment is the confirmation of Hannah Playhouse’s rightful place as a Category 1 historic place on the New Zealand Heritage List Rārangi Kōrero. The approval came from the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Board after due consideration of the site’s historical, cultural, and architectural significance.
The New Zealand Heritage List Rārangi Kōrero is a comprehensive recognition of the nation’s rich and diverse place-based heritage. It stands as a valuable resource, benefiting researchers, historians, students, and property owners. The thorough research process accompanying the listing generates a publicly available report, which enriches our understanding of Aotearoa New Zealand’s heritage and informs planning and development decisions.
Beyond its intrinsic value as a historical record, the listing opens doors for property owners to expert guidance from Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga conservation advisors and potential access to funding for conservation and restoration efforts.
Dr Jacobs notes Hannah Playhouse’s recognition as a Category 1 historic place is a testament to its enduring significance in Aotearoa New Zealand’s cultural landscape. “As we embrace this 50th anniversary, we honour the past, celebrate the present, and pave the way for a future where our modern heritage is cherished and preserved.”