Friday, January 14, 2011

Doomed, all doomed

Architects are no friends to art museum visitors and in New Zealand they often feel like enemies. Anyone who has found themselves dazed and confused as they struggle to find the exhibitions at the New Dowse will know what we mean. Then there are the glass atriums that have been clipped onto the Christchurch Art Gallery and soon to the Auckland Art Gallery. 

Transparency is all very well, but it can be a big limitation when you're exhibiting art. Certainly it's a no-no for many of the corporate events (often quoted as part of the reason for constructing these large atriums in the first place). Many of these kind of events demand blackout for the projections and spectaculars they create and don't appreciate lots of light. Besides which glass atriums are often too hot, too cold, too exposed or too narrow for anything like a pleasant gathering place.

In fact feature atriums are a bit of a worry all round. Art museums with good exhibition spaces like Dunedin and Christchurch could easily do with an atrium redesign in favour of easier access to the exhibition galleries and better space allocation for openings.

As for the exterior look of new museums, since Te Papa we seem to have slumped into mall/shopping centre/car showroom mode with a dash of airport. While this might be consistent with the ‘if we build it they will come’ metaphor, it does leave us with a track record of uninspired buildings. The Tauranga Art Gallery is a notable exception.

Anyway, next off the rank is the proposed new Hawke's Bay Museum & Art Gallery which we are told is, “A new wing [that] will form a contemporary but contextual addition to the streetscape of Art Deco Napier.” LOL. Has the architect actually looked at the photograph of the model? The building looks like a local council admin building that would fit right into any small city in the world. If there is even one architect living in the world who truly believes that this building is 'contextual with Art Deco', the profession is doomed.

Images: From the top, Christchurch Art Gallery, the nearly complete Auckland Art Gallery, the recently commissioned Hawke's Bay Museum & Art Gallery and a proposed National Art Gallery to stand next to Te Papa.