New Regent Street was the forerunner of New Zealand's present day shopping mall. At the time of its construction the concept of an entire street made up of small speciality shops was new for the nation.
The 40 shops on individual titles were designed in the Spanish Mission Revival style by Francis Willis in 1930. Building took place between 1930 and 1932 and was one of the few large scale building projects undertaken in the South Island during the Depression.
On 1 April 1932, New Regent Street was opened by the Mayor of Christchurch, Daniel Sullivan who described it as "the most beautiful street in New Zealand".
Of the 40 shops offered for lease, only 3 were let owing to the Depression. To encourage occupancy, New Regent Street Ltd decided to lease the remainder free of charge until businesses became established, and then at a nominal rent of 5 shillings a week. Over time some properties were amalgamated to form larger shops and all eventually passed into private ownership.
After World War II, New Regent Street became a public road, and in 1986 it was made a one-way street. In 1994 the street became a pedestrian mall and the tramline was installed. At this time the cobblestone paving, wrought iron railings, planter beds and period lighting were also introduced.
The street now comprises 38 shops in two rows running north to south between Gloucester and Armagh Streets with a pedestrian area and tramline running through the centre.
Prior to the 2010-2011 earthquakes shops and restaurants occupied the street. Alterations have been made over time to some of the interiors, shopfronts and tiling. Despite these changes and moderate damage from earthquakes both storeys of the buildings remain relatively intact. New Regent Street was reopened on 19 April 2013.
The buildings are listed as a Category 1 building with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT).
New Regent Street has unique streetscape value through the uniformity of design, form, colour and scale of all its shops. The street's architectural style and continuous facade give it high public recognition and landmark significance.
Street features include pedestrian areas, colourful road surfaces lined with planter boxes, and an outdoor reading room in front of the proposed Central Library site.
The design incorporates a "daisy chain" on the footpath of the southern side of Gloucester Street to encourage pedestrians to visit New Regent Street. The colours of the "daisies" are from the same palette as the building facades.
The two storey buildings have decorative facades featuring shaped gables, medallions, tiled window hoods and barley-twist columns.
There are decorative panels of tiling located along the shop front upstands and party walls. After the 2010-2011 earthquakes many of the tiles needed to be replaced and replica tiles were handmade in China to match original Minton tiles from England. Most tiles located on the horizontal shop front upstands are new, with any original tiles being used on the vertical panels between the units.
Most buildings have been re-rendered in colours that have been approved by the Christchurch City Council and the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.