Planning an extension to a landmark heritage building in the 21st century is all about respect, not replication. But the design of the new contemporary art gallery to be built alongside historic Lopdell House in Titirangi, Auckland also presented other challenges, says architect Julian Mitchell of Mitchell & Stout Architects.
"Clearly, the modern building needed to sit comfortably beside the heritage structure, while presenting a new architectural expression," Mitchell says. "But we also had to work with a very steep site that has a three-storey drop-off from front to back, and a relatively tight footprint.
"There was also the challenge of the light. Modern architecture is all about the way a space responds to natural light as architects we are always looking for ways to open up an interior to the light. Art curators, however, request closed-box gallery spaces that they can light artificially. This was one of the key reasons that Lopdell House, with its abundant large windows, was unsuited to provide the required gallery spaces."
All these factors helped to determine the design solution. This was aided by the architects' earlier involvement with the restoration and earthquake strengthening of Lopdell House, which is owned by Auckland Council and administered by the Lopdell House Development Trust.
Mitchell equates the building to a 3-D jigsaw puzzle of interlocking forms, with deep fissures and skylights designed to bring natural light deep down into the interior.
"It's a fairly square site, and subsequently a square building, but one of the walls on the front elevation is pushed back from the street to allow natural light to penetrate the teaching spaces on the lower levels," the architect says. "The wall on the opposite side of the entry curves around towards the door, so it feeds visitors into the building. Pulling the facade back from the street, and introducing the curved wall was also a way to give the building a sculptural form."
The gallery is the same height as the heritage building, and features a similar band across the top of the flat-roofed street elevation.
Mitchell says the choice of cladding was long debated, and resource consent was gained for the use of green, pre-patinated copper, which has a lifespan of 200 years.