Local architect’s Len Lye Centre a thing of beauty

Justine Harvey News Make a Comment

The launch of the new Len Lye Centre, designed by Patterson Associates in New Plymouth, was the hot ticket event last weekend. Politicians mixed with creatives, urbanites chatted with ruralites, and art and architecture was at its best – interactive and fun for all ages.

New Plymouth gave visitors a welcoming celebration that included a public powhiri, a VIP launch event, a ticketed party at restaurant/bar The Mayfair, and a street festival of theatre, music, workshops, food stalls and pop-up installations.

John Mathews, chairman of the Len Lye Foundation, described the building as “a masterpiece – Len Lye would be dancing down the halls”.

Visitors were able to directly engage not only with the artworks of the acclaimed NZ filmmaker/artist, but also with the centre’s gleaming stainless steel facade which reflects everything around it.

This shiny surface creates distorted reflections of the adjacent White Hart Hotel (1886), an excellent example of a Victorian-style Kiwi pub; the graphic horizontal lines of the modernist Atkinson House (1950); and the city’s clock tower (originally built in 1907 and rebuilt in 1985).

At ground level, a repetitive koru design is sinuously carved in concrete and explodes upwards towards the sky, creating a beautifully draped curtain of architecture, people and sky in constant motion, seen in the video below.

Local performers dressed in metallic silver outfits dragged passersby into a hand-held picture frame to be photographed in front of the new facade.

“People were taking selfies all of the time,” said Andrew Patterson of Patterson Associates. “It was interesting to see how the reflective shine on the facade confused the auto-focus on modern phones and made the walls tend to distort.”

Attending the launch was multimedia artist Tim Gruchy, who quipped, “Clearly the building can bend reality.”

Patterson couldn’t believe the response of the public: “Immediately upon entering the building, people’s heads would raise but their jaws would stay in the same place,” he says. “It was the best feedback any architect could want and I could have camped in the lobby all of this week just to watch people.”

Inside, the architects ensured that Len Lye’s art is the main star here. Visitors are deliberately taken on a spiralling journey around the gallery spaces. The form and high finish is dramatic but the minimal variety of materials and clean lines makes the interior appear simple in execution. Of course, the magic of good architecture is making complex technical challenges appear effortless and beautiful.

Patterson Associates has created a short film, which shows how the layers of the building are organised (access this film through the ArchitectureNow link, below)

Another surprise was the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s captivating performances beside four kinetic sculptures in the double-height gallery space and, also, to accompany Lye’s experimental films, including All Souls Carnival, in the centre’s sexy new theatre.

Several of these collaborative musical-film performances were given for the first time ever, including a unique collage of Lye’s films created by his biographer Roger Horrocks. There were lengthy queues of people wanting to attend the scheduled performances but many couldn’t fit into the intimate 65-seat theatre. Hopefully, they will be performed again in the near future.


Words: Justine Harvey
Images: Davor Popadich, Glenn Jeffrey, Patrick Reynolds

  • The above article, written by Justine Harvey, first appeared in AGM Publishing’s ArchitectureNow e-newsletter here
  • Indepth coverage on the Len Lye Centre will be published in forthcoming editions of AGM’s Architecture New Zealand and Interior magazines.
  • Roger Horrock’s new book Zizz: The life and art of Len Lye (Awa Press) in his own words is out now (buy it here: www.awapress.com/products
  • Also see urbismagazine.com/articles/inside-the-len-lye-centre

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