New Zealand-born Len Lye (1901-1980) was one of the most unique artists in the world, known particularly for his experimental films and kinetic sculpture. His work can be found in the Len Lye Centre at the Govett Brewster Art Gallery museum in New Plymouth, New Zealand, which houses Lye’s archive, display galleries, an education center and a 62-seat cinema. Pattersons Associates was commissioned to give shape to the building.

Since Lye was fascinated by classical temples, the center draws inspiration from ancient “megarons,” or great halls. The resulting building is a work of art in itself, combining elements of traditional New Zealand architecture, classical temples, and kinetic art. The exterior of the building stands out for its undulating façade, made from polished stainless steel columns of 14 meters in height, through which diffused light filters towards the interior. On receiving direct sunlight, the steel creates iridescent reflections on the surrounding pavement.

The interior has been structured as if it were a Greek temple. The exterior colonnade circles a three-level interior ramp that gives access to a kind of “pronaos,” a type of vestibule, which houses huge works of Lye’s art. At this point, the colonnade becomes an asymmetric porch which opens out to the main gallery, designed to look like a primitive “megaron.” When viewed from above, the colonnade’s top edges also create a koru form, suggesting a Polynesian “wharenui,” or meeting house. Instead of the ancient “adyton,” the most sacred and private part of a temple located furthest from the entrance, the Len Lye archive is found.

The building also includes an auditorium that can be used as a cinema. Figueras International Seating team worked with Pattersons Associates to create the exact atmosphere. The architects wanted to create a theater with hints of the 1930s, the era of Lye’s early films, but one that was also harmonious with the rest of the modern building. As time went on, the gallery team expanded the use and flexibility of this room, which now also hosts conferences, concerts, and dances.

The team of architects opted for a traditionally sized, elegant, and comfortable seat, which could be customized in color and upholstery. The choice was the 6036 Flex armchair. The color red was chosen as a link to the historical era of Lye’s early films, reminiscent of the old cinemas with carpeting and red velvet walls. But in order to have a contemporary connection, they were upholstered in leather. The middle seat of each row was modified by 2 centimeters to provide slightly wider seats. A first row of removable seats was also developed to allow the stage to be extended if necessary.

You can read a full interview on this incredible building with Andrew Mitchell, Pattersons Associates Architects, by clicking here.

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