Property editor of the NZ Herald

First glimpse of Auckland's new cultural icon

Is it a giant diamond, perhaps an icicle, maybe a lighthouse, lantern or even a huge ice block?

Auckland's latest architectural wonder is the sparkling new, much-awaited ASB Waterfront Theatre.

Like a cultural beacon shining from its posh new waterfront digs in the burgeoning Wynyard Quarter, the new hub of the city's performing arts is now being finished by Hawkins Construction, ready for its opening later this year.

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But it's probably the opposite of what you're expecting.

Theatres are usually box-like internally-focused enclosures with minimal public interface and certainly little if any ability to see what's going on inside.

So that makes this new building designed by local architect Gordon Moller and Australia's BVN an entirely revolutionary scheme.

The theatre is suspended within an intriguing glass box, the opposite of what many people would expect it to look like.

But don't get any ideas about standing around on the waterfront, gawping in to shows and getting a free seat.

The new 668-seat theatre is itself enclosed, suspended inside that external glass box structure, so nosey-parkers won't be able to see what's going on.

The first exterior glimpse at the new purpose-built hub of performing arts, drama, dance and culture shows the design has turned the often hidden-from-view world of theatre on its head.

The theatre is all lined in cedar, like a crucible in the glass box. We wanted to maximise the connection to the public and encourage the public to come into the theatre because this is important in how we relate to our audience.

Gordon Moller - lead architect as well as theatre company chairman - said the building had street frontages opening onto Madden St, Halsey St and a new outdoor laneway.

It opened out to the street as a welcoming gesture, with a cafe on the ground floor. Glass cladding meant it was visible to and open to the public, a clear sign of the theatre company's aims, Moller said.

"The theatre is all lined in cedar, like a crucible in the glass box. We wanted to maximise the connection to the public and encourage the public to come into the theatre because this is important in how we relate to our audience."

Patrons will have sweeping waterfront views, particularly looking back to the CBD from the Halsey St side of the block.

Features within include a dramatic pedestrian bridge, he said. Each seat was computer-modelled for its view.

It's the opposite of a traditional theatre that has darkened foyers, all hidden away.

The new building is also connected to the existing commercial office block ASB North Wharf, which already has a 200-seat theatre.

"We could have shows going on in both buildings at once," Moller said.

Lester McGrath, Auckland Theatre Company general manager, revealed some of the building's more unusual aspects when he attended this month's sod-turning for the new $200 million Park Hyatt which is about to rise across Halsey St.

"It's the opposite of a traditional theatre that has darkened foyers, all hidden away," McGrath explained.

"We started in the middle and designed outwards. The auditorium is not deep but has long, wide rows. It's a traditional theatre, curved around the stage. The stage is 12m wide by 16m deep," McGrath said.

The theatre company will be the anchor tenant but the venue will be available for use by national and international theatre, dance and opera companies, its web site says.

The theatre opens with Billy Elliott the Musical later this year.

- NZ Herald

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