Auckland Art Gallery is 2013 World Building of the Year
Text: Florian Maier
Australian architect FJMT with New Zealand practice Archimedia won the most important award at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore. Paul Finch, director of the WAF explained why the gallery had beaten a very strong field: ‘It transcended various category types. It explores the relationship between new and old, it is a civic and community building, it is a display building, it engages with the difference between man-made and natural, it deals with art and science, and it is certainly about culture. This is a major design achievement in a seismic zone, providing an example of design pragmatism and a carful reworking which does no more than it needs to until it is required. Balancing many different elements, the resulting design is a rich complex of built ideas.'
The super jury was chaired by Ken Tadashi Oshima and consisted of Ken Yeang, Jeanne Gang, Dietmar Eberle and Patrick Bellew. Catherine Slessor, who chaired the culture jury, said, 'It is an extremely sensitive addition to an existing building, technologically sophisticated in its use of materials particularly of the timber which is sacred to the Maori. They only used wood that had fallen in the forest. It reanimates an existing building without overwhelming it yet at the same time is a powerful signifier of the new life of the building.'
Directly after the announcement, Richard Francis-Jones, design director of FJMT admitted: ‘It has not sunk in yet’.
Architects: Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp and Archimedia (Architects in Association)
Location: Corner of Kitchener and Wellesley Streets, Auckland, 1010, New Zealand
The new Auckland Art Gallery is an extensive public project that includes: thelrestoration and adaption of heritage buildings; a new building extension which more than doubles the public exhibition areas; extensive basement storage and support areas; and the redesign of adjacent areas of Albert Park. The architecture developed from a concept which relates as much to the organic natural forms of the landscape as it does to the architectural order and character of the heritage buildings.
The new building is characterised by a series of fine ‘tree-like’ canopies that define and cover the entry forecourt, atrium and gallery areas. These light, profiled forms are inspired by the adjacent canopy of pohutukawa trees and ‘hover’ over the stone walls and terraces that reinterpret the natural topography of the site. The ceilings of the canopies are assembled from carefully selected Kauri, profiled into precise geometric patterns and supported on slender and tapering shafts. These emblematic forms give the gallery a unique identity that is inspired by the natural landscape of the site.
A detailed study of the relative dimensions, proportions and alignments determined the final form and positioning of the new elements, creating a finely crafted complement to the heritage buildings. Between the stepped stone podium and hovering canopies, an openness and transparency is created to allow views through, into and out of the gallery circulation and display spaces into the green landscape of Albert Park. In this way the gallery opens to the park and adjoining public spaces in an inviting and engaging gesture of welcome.
The entry sequence into the gallery follows a progression from the street forecourt, under a generous and welcoming canopy, through into a lower foyer to emerge via a broad stair into the large light-filled atrium. The atrium provides a central orientation and display space for visitors. Gallery circulation extends from the main atrium in a clear series of loops interconnecting all gallery spaces via the smaller southern atrium which mediates the junction between the new insertion and the existing Wellesley Wing.
A wide range of diverse exhibition spaces and rooms are created, both fixed and flexible, formal and informal, heritage and contemporary, naturally-lit and artificially-lit, open and closed, high spaces and lower spaces. The operations, servicing and ‘back of house’ facilities are distributed in extended basement areas, with specialist conservation areas and administration space woven into the multiple levels of the Kitchener Wing.
Richard Francis-Jones explained some of the thinking behind the design. ‘Our inspiration was the beautiful natural landscape. We saw the building as embedded in place. We wanted to use natural local materials, especially the beautiful kauri trees. But because these are protected, we could only use fallen trees or recycled wood. The building is all about New Zealand, and it has the work of great Maori artists embedded in it.’
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