Patterson’s new museum honours artist, Len Lye

Gail Taylor
Tuesday 11 Aug 2015

Len Lye once said that ‘great architecture goes 50/50 with great art’ - as the Len Lye Centre goes to show…

The new Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand, designed by WAN Awards 21 for 21 winner in 2011, Patterson Architects Associates, recently opened.

A combined art museum with the existing Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, the building was commissioned by the New Plymouth District Council and financed via an extensive government-led fundraising programme. It is New Zealand’s only museum dedicated to a single artist, the pioneering filmmaker and kinetic sculptor Len Lye (1901-1980).

The building’s design articulates Len Lye’s philosophy on the relationship between art and architecture. The space is reverential, creating a sensory experience from light as a 'temple' for art.

To celebrate the Taranaki region’s innovative steel industry, the ‘temple’ is wrapped in a curved façade of highly reflective stainless steel – its architects refer to this as "Taranaki's ‘local stone’".

The exterior creates different reflections during each day and season, and a plaza around the building to showcase these light reflections is due to be installed early next year.

“Lye was fascinated with temples and our design uses principles from the classical world, as well as Polynesian forms and ideas,” says Design Director of Patterson Associates, Andrew Patterson. “These influenced Lye and he was after all, the client.”

Patterson Associates developed the design in a holistic or adaptive way, using what Patterson calls a ‘systems methodology’. Rather than following classical proportion and aesthetics, they used patterns in the ecology of the project’s environments to drive design elements.

Patterson says creating a new home for the Len Lye Collection was an honour. “We were thrilled to be offered this commission; Len Lye is an inspirational figure who bridged a multitude of creative disciplines. This building is about amplifying his work by physically representing the partnership that he identified between art and architecture.”

Pattersons was passionate about creating a Maori ‘wharenui,’ or meeting house to articulate the museum’s programme. "Historically the carved nature of the wharenui presents a platform in which oral narratives can be presented,” says Patterson. 

The new Len Lye Centre, with its sculptural steel exterior and subtle kinetic interior light shifts, embodies and personifies Len Lye and his body of work. The building’s form, and the work it houses, narrates to the visitor his philosophies, his ‘mana’ and his expression.

Patterson Architects Associates was selected as a winner in WAN’s 21 for 21 program - a five year quest to identify the 21 emerging firms who most likely will be the leading lights of architecture in the 21st Century. 27 judges assessed over 600 architects’ practices from over 50 countries to select the final 21.

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Gail Taylor

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