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Controversial Auckland Art Gallery wins country’s top architecture award

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki is the 2012 winner of the top prize in architecture – the New Zealand Architecture Medal.

NBR staff
Mon, 28 May 2012

Controversial Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki is the 2012 winner of the top prize in architecture – the New Zealand Architecture Medal.

The award was presented to the gallery’s architects, Sydney-based Fjmt and Auckland-based Archimedia, at the New Zealand Architecture Awards dinner at Te Papa, Wellington.  

The award came just days after news that wealthy patrons had saved the job of gallery director Chris Saines, who drove the project from start to fruition despite strong criticism.

Council organisation Regional Facilities Auckland, which oversees the gallery and other facilities, had admitted it planned to remove Mr Saines from his management roles, bring in a general manager to concentrate on commercial performance and invite Mr Saines to apply for a “cultural director” post.

Mr Saines told the media then that he would apply for the post.

He was referring to the plan by Robert Domm, the new Regional Facilities chief executive, to employ a general manager to improve the gallery's commercial performance.

But leading arts patrons took exception to the change and strongly protested.

Regional Facilities said there had been a misunderstanding about the proposed changes. Mr Saines was reinstated as director with overall responsibility for artistic and operational functions.

A new position of deputy director focused on operational matters.

The judges of the New Zealand Institute of Architects’ annual awards programme selected the Auckland Art Gallery from a field of 20 recipients of 2012 New Zealand Awards for Architecture.

It was narrowed to four finalists: the gallery; Knoll Ridge Cafe on Mt Ruapehu, designed by Harris Butt Architecture; a house at Piha designed by Herbst Architects; and Remarkables Primary School, Queenstown, designed by Babbage Consultants.        

“The Auckland Art Gallery is a most deserving winner of the Architecture Medal,” says awards jury convenor, Wellington architect Hugh Tennent. “There were high hopes for this building, and big challenges to overcome.

"The architects had to work with an existing heritage building and a sensitive site on the edge of Albert Park, as well provide all the spaces and amenities required by a 21st-century art gallery.

“On all fronts, the architects have risen to the occasion. The existing building looks stunning, the new building looks even better, and the two parts work well together. And with its generous terraces the gallery now makes the most of its connections to Albert Park.”

The jury praised the architects for both the design of the gallery, produced by Fjmt director Richard Francis-Jones, and for their perseverance in steering the building through a “lengthy and much-scrutinised construction process” which included restoring and strengthening the 1888 building.   

“The architects have held their nerve to realise a civic building that Auckland needed, and needed to be very good,” the jury said. “A key issue confronted was also the big opportunity embraced: the gallery’s relationship with Albert Park.

“But the building’s other relationships – with Kitchener St and with the wider city – have been pursued very successfully, as has the strategy of using the spaces around the building, and views into the interior, to invite the public into the gallery.”

The awards jury also praised the building’s “moments of drama” such as “the beautifully crafted kauri canopies over the atrium and forecourt that elevate a visit into an occasion”.

Inside the gallery, the jury said, the architecture, “with its high-quality detailing, easily navigable and highly functional galleries, and carefully delineated but unlaboured distinction between new and existing structure, imparts the confidence that comes from high-level competence".

“The gallery’s requirements have been met and so have Aucklanders’ expectations,” concluded the jury which, in addition to Hugh Tennent, comprised New Zealand architects Ivan Mercep, Ginny Pedlow and Gary Lawson, and Australian architect John Wardle.

The New Zealand Architecture Awards is the annual official programme of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, established to determine the best architectural projects submitted each year.

All award winners will have been visited by the jury, which comprises architects who each have a strong record of designing accomplished buildings.

NBR staff
Mon, 28 May 2012
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Controversial Auckland Art Gallery wins country’s top architecture award