ASB Waterfront Theatre provides an intimate theatre experience and close connections with adjacent public spaces

Starting with the technical requirements for the stage and auditorium, architect Gordon Moller has created a multi-use theatre facility that acts as a beacon on Auckland's waterfront

Story by: Paul Taylor Photography by: Simon Devitt
Architect Gordon Mollers original drawings of the ASB angle, architecture, area, artwork, design, diagram, drawing, engineering, line, plan, product, product design, structure, urban design, white
Architect Gordon Mollers original drawings of the ASB Waterfront Theatre show its scale and relation to the street frontages, laneways and the adjacent ASB head office.

After 25 years of hiring theatres around town for its repertoire of seven main bill shows a year, Auckland Theatre Company (ATC) finally has a place to call home. Designed by architect Gordon Moller of Moller Architects, and sitting on a high visibility harbourside site, the ASB Waterfront Theatre provides the company and the city with the 600+ seat theatre that they needed and much more.

Moller who also chairs ATC says that after considering a number of sites around town, the company finally negotiated a 100-year lease for the 38m x 38m corner site in Wynyard Quarter.

After conducting a feasibility study to ensure the required 7000m² building could fit on the site, Moller began the design process, using the requirements for the theatre itself to shape the building.

"ATC director Colin McColl wanted a traditional form of theatre that is an auditorium, proscenium opening and a full height fly tower.

"He also wanted it to be an intimate setting that was acoustically designed for the spoken word."

Based on these parameters, Moller started to determine what shape and size the theatre might be, so as to accommodate the 600 seats.

"To achieve the immediacy Colin required, the auditorium needed to be no deeper than 18m and it's 24m wide in a circle, which allowed us to accommodate 670 seats.

"We then worked at this conceptual stage with Brian Hall, who has worked on theatres around the world, John McKay who's expert on the logistical issues and with Marshall Day as acoustical consultant. When you're spending $36 million on a theatre, you want to make sure you end up with something that's perfect," says Moller.


At one stage, it seemed that the colourful architecture, glass, structure, black
At one stage, it seemed that the colourful spiral staircase rising up through the glass atrium at the ASB Waterfront Theatre would not be able to proceed for budgetary reasons. Architect Gordon Moller also chair of Auckland Theatre Company was determined not to lose it and an additional funding drive ensured it stayed as a sculptural element in the finished building.

Various studies were done to see how best to connect the building to adjacent public spaces such as the courtyard between it and the ASB head office to the side. But that created challenges.

"One aspect of acoustics is the reverberation inside the theatre, but a building like this has to be sound-attenuated so you don't hear anything from outside during a performance. This was just too difficult to do with the building open to a courtyard."

The breakthrough came from Brian Hall, with his suggestion to move the theatre up to level 1.

"This not only allowed us to open the building up, but also meant we could accommodate the dressing rooms, scene dock, green room, wardrobe, laundry and trap room for the stage at ground level, underneath the theatre."

"Immediately we'd had that discussion, I realised we could distribute the balance of the ground floor to creating exciting public spaces that flow around the theatre something we were very keen to do."

These comprise front-of-house facilities, a cafe on the street front and the bar and foyer to the side, all contained in a four-storey glass atrium that surrounds the theatre.

The curved back of the theatre extends into the atrium to create a strong sculptural element on levels one, two and three. Adorned with a 10,000 LED kinetic artwork running 29m long and 9m high, this now acts as a beacon for the theatre, both within the Wynyard Quarter and from the city side of the Viaduct Basin.

The lightwork is one of a series of major New Zealand artworks in the public spaces, including a six-metre high Maori pou located in the courtyard.

Raising the ASB Waterfront Theatre to the first cafeteria, institution, restaurant, black, gray
Raising the ASB Waterfront Theatre to the first floor freed up the ground floor to house public areas that are open to the street.

The bar foyer can be fully opened to this public courtyard, which sits between the theatre and the adjacent ASB head office.

And there are other connections to ASB.

"ASB is ATC's bank and a supporter, plus it is the naming rights sponsor of the building. We helped facilitate a 200-seat studio in its building, which we can use at times, while they can also have access to our facilities."

That link is strengthened by a bridge running between level two in both buildings, which also acts as a portal into the shared courtyard.

Moller says that it's not easy to incorporate green technologies into theatre design.

"Because a theatre is an enclosed box, it uses a lot energy it's very hard not to. But we worked with eCubed on this and the building is about to receive a 5 Green Star rating."

This was achieved through factors such as the careful use of materials and by installing mixed mode air conditioning that switches between the auditorium and the public space, depending on which one is occupied.

While the theatre was designed specifically for speech, it's proved to be an ideal venue for other performances too such as music and dance as well as catering for functions in theatre downtime.

Jun 21, 2017

Credit list

Project
ASB Waterfront Theatre, Auckland
Architect
Moller Architects in association with
Services & mechanical engineer
eCubed Building Workshop
Quantity surveyor
Rider Levett Bucknall
Project manager
BW Partners
Cladding
Band sawn cedar
Flooring
Carpet Feltex, Regulon rubber flooring Jacobsen
Ceiling
Veneered plywood
Theatre lighting
Strand
Theatre seating
Merje, with fabric from Interweave
Flying system
Theatre Systems
Internal signage
Signcraftsmen
Awards
PCNZ Rider Levett Bucknall Property Awards
Client
Auckland Theatre Company
Construction
Hawkins Construction
Structural engineer
BGT Structures
Project director
Mike Geale
Acoustics
Marshall Day
Glazing system
Thermosash
Paints and coatings
Resene, CD50 oil on exterior
Public space lighting
ECC
Public area furniture
Kada and Andrew Cassels
Stage curtains
John Herber
Audio visual
Bartons
Lift services
Schindler
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