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New home for Music, Theatre and the Performing Arts

Wednesday, 12 July 2017 8:47am

An artist's impression of the new Department of Music, Theatre and Performing Arts building announced by the University today.

The University of Otago is building recording studios and refurbishing existing buildings in a $26 million project that will spark multiple benefits for both the University and Dunedin.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says constructing a new building beside the Robertson Library in Union Street East and refurbishing the nearby Music Suite, Teaching Wing and Tower Block on the University of Otago College of Education campus by the start of 2019 academic year will:

  • Create a modern, permanent home for the Department of Music, Theatre and Performing Arts Te Kāhui Tau
  • Consolidate the department’s staff, students and activities more, instead of them being in about 10 locations around the campus
  • Provide purpose-built, versatile studios that are equipped both for recording everything from contemporary bands and small orchestras to solos, and for teaching contemporary/rock music performances
  • Provide flexible teaching spaces, and communal areas for students to showcase their work and learn from each other
  • Enhance the College of Education campus
  • Foster collaboration between the college and department, potentially developing a collaborative teaching and research strength unique to Otago
  • Promote a sense of community in the East Precinct of campus and within the Division of Humanities
  • Offer another reason for national and international students to study in Dunedin
  • Make cutting-edge recording studios available for commercial and community use
  • Provide opportunities locally, nationally and internationally in teaching, research and creative music work
  • Make the existing buildings more accessible while also increasing fire protection systems and seismic strengthening as needed.
  • Allow academic programmes to continue with minimal disruption during construction

Professor Hayne believes the long and proud tradition of teaching music at Otago is “an important part of a well-rounded education for our students” – apart from students who do music degrees, many others do minors or double degrees that include music.

The substantial investment in the Department of Music, Theatre and Performing Arts Te Kāhui Tau also signals its importance to the future at Otago.

That department’s benefits spread beyond the campus, by enriching the intellectual and cultural life of the city while fulfilling the University’s pledge to deliver 100 arts performances every year, she says.

Both staff and students provide their expertise to local, national and international bodies as well.

This University’s investment in the Division of Humanities also reflects its strategic commitments to excellence in research and teaching, outstanding student experiences and being a good local, national and global citizen, Professor Hayne says.

"To me, the new building we are announcing today is about investing in both our infrastructure and our staff. It’s not an either-or choice. If universities provide run-down facilities, they are less attractive to students and world-class academics, who are the lifeblood of every university in an extremely competitive global marketplace."

Division of Humanities Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Tony Ballantyne says the East Precinct is considered a key area for the future development of the Division, so the relocation of the Music, Theatre and Performing Arts Te Kāhui Tau is the first step towards that future.

With the department’s staff and students consolidated in the East Precinct and an outstanding new facility, both the department and the division will be in a good position to build a strong future.

Workspace studies indicate co-locating staff, students and activities improves efficiency, communication, relationships and collaboration, while also boosting performance, effective decision-making and innovation, Professor Ballantyne says.

Chief Operating Officer Stephen Willis says the project brings the value of the University’s Dunedin-based building programme to more than $250 million, creating more construction jobs and economic benefits for the region.

The building programme includes the ongoing Faculty of Dentistry, Science, Otago Business School and Research Support Facility projects, along with the recently completed Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study building, Aquinas College Redevelopment and the new teaching laboratory at Portobello.

The next steps in the Department of Music, Theatre and Performing Arts Te Kāhui Tau project will include finalising the design and applying for resource consents, Mr Willis says.

While the building programme coincides with the University's Support Services Review, Professor Hayne defends the situation.

“We are excited about providing our people in music with new premises, and as you have noted we have also been working on a review of staffing, which highlights the dilemma faced by universities worldwide.

“To me, the new building we are announcing today is about investing in both our infrastructure and our staff. It’s not an either-or choice. If universities provide run-down facilities, they are less attractive to students and world-class academics, who are the lifeblood of every university in an extremely competitive global marketplace.

“In short, without outstanding facilities for outstanding staff, universities are completely at the mercy of a volatile international environment. Our strategic intention is to have the best students, staff and facilities, which in turn makes us one of the finest universities in the world.”


180 Albany Street

The existing recording studio is in a building at 180 Albany Street that contains asbestos.

The building was built in 1967 to house the New Zealand Broadcasting Authority. When the NZBA stopped using it, the University leased the building then bought it in 2008. The University wanted to continue using the building and believed the site would be suitable for future development because it is next to other University property.

Independent consultants have determined existing building at 180 Albany Street is safe for staff and students to continue using in the interim. Safety measures are in place, which include prohibiting access to some areas and relocating activities that can be done elsewhere.

The University is taking the most cost effective option of dealing with the asbestos by demolishing the ageing building once the new facilities are ready, which would also free the site of the existing recording studio for future development.

Currently, the music programme uses the studio at 180 Albany Street for studio production and contemporary music. Other activities at the studio have included recording 61 commercially released albums – some of which have been New Zealand Music Award winners.

The studio’s recording control desk was bought in 2010 and was first-class at the time. But it will be due for replacement by 2020 and has been superseded by smaller, more intuitive control desks more suited to teaching.

Examining options to replace the studio included holding workshops with students’, academic staff and general staff in 2015 and 2016, while also considering the University’s needs as an organisation. The options ranged from retaining the use of some premises to a new building.

Department of Music, Theatre and Performing Arts Te Kāhui Tau

The department was in the top 100 universities for performing arts in the 2016 QS World University Rankings by subject.

The department is in the Division of Humanities and offers courses intended to equip students for careers in performance, theatre, the music industry, music education and technology.

The range of programmes and curricula offered is unique among New Zealand universities, and the department is renowned for its innovation and forward thinking – including its pioneering of teaching contemporary music, studio production and an interdisciplinary performing arts programme.

The Bachelor of Performing Arts was introduced in 2014, in response to students’ desire for a practice-led interdisciplinary course. The degree combines music, theatre and dance in a programme that Division of Humanities Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Tony Ballantyne says has quickly become highly regarded.

The department has about 22 full-time equivalent (FTE) academic staff and 5.1 FTE general staff, who provide technical and administrative support.


Professor Ballantyne says music is deeply embedded in University of Otago tradition. Victor Galway was appointed as the University’s first music lecturer in 1926 and from the outset music staff made a substantial contribution to the cultural life of the entire campus and the city.

The music programme teaches more than 400 students a year, from across all academic divisions. That includes international students and a significant number of non-majors, often from Sciences and Health Sciences.

Otago provides the most flexible music programme in New Zealand, welcoming non-majors and allowing students to bring different strands of the programme together in their degree rather than enforcing rigid boundaries – for example between classical and contemporary music, and composition and performance.

The Otago music programme has some world-leading staff and outstanding Alumni.

Both staff and students also provide their expertise locally, nationally and internationally, including to the Royal Society of New Zealand, the Dame Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, the International Musicological Society, Opera Otago, the Dunedin Youth Orchestra, The Verlaines and The Chills.

Individual staff have won numerous awards and distinctions. Associate Professor Anthony Ritchie’s Fjarran recently won classical album of the year in the New Zealand Music Awards, students regularly win great distinction in the Lexus Song Quest, and many alumni go on to professional careers (such as composer and conductor Tecwyn Evans and opera singers Anna Leese and Jonathan Lemalu).

When the music programme moves to its new location, Black Sale House will become available for other uses.

The new facility

The new recording studio building will be at the west end of the University of Otago College of Education campus.

It will connect to the existing college Music Suite via a first floor walkway. This will increase accessibility to the upper story of the Music Suite via the lift in the new building, and provide an internal route for staff and students to move between the Tower Block at the east end of the precinct and the new building at the west end.

Circulation areas in the new building have been configured to provide spaces for socialising, more formal interaction and performances.

The project also includes internally reconfiguring and re‐fitting the existing Teaching Wing, Music Suite and Tower Block, along with minor work on one existing space in the Education Resource Centre, to provide postgraduate office space.

The College of Education’s specialist rooms for art, soft materials, science and maths will be relocated or reconfigured – increasing space and efficiency, while reflecting changes in teaching methods, digital technology and innovative learning environments.

Because the new building will be in the car park next to the Robertson Library and Water of Leith, about 45 parking spaces will be lost. But that will be offset by the creation of more than 150 new spaces in the car park being constructed on the former Wickliffe site nearby.

The location of the new building, in the car park next to the Robertson Library and Water of Leith.

The new studio area

The studio area will be a two-storey space, for acoustic purposes. All studio, booth and control rooms will be suitable for recording and practice.

The proposed layout has the main studio and control room downstairs, and clusters of multi-use practice and recording rooms upstairs. Each studio space has been designed as a box-in-a box, to provide noise isolation.

The cost of a new recording control desk for the studio area has been included in the project’s budget, but the Department of Music, Theatre and Performing Arts Te Kāhui Tau will complete a full cost benefit analysis of replacing it, during the next design stage of the project.