Property editor of the NZ Herald

Dramatic wonders in new theatre

A sneak preview of the architectural and performance features in the $35m addition to the Wynyard Quarter.

Twenty-four secret trapdoors are embedded in the new ASB Waterfront Theatre's stage floor, allowing objects as big as a grand piano to magically appear before the 668 patrons, a project boss says.

The Herald was yesterday taken on the first media tour of the $35 million Wynyard Quarter theatre opening later this year at the Halsey/Madden Sts intersection.

Alun Larsen, Hawkins Construction project manager, showed how the trapdoors formed the ceiling of a ground-level room where equipment could be hauled in for a big surprise.

"All these trapdoors can be opened at once. You could have someone on a grand piano below the floor, coming up," Larsen said, telling how each trapdoor could be independently operated, or a giant chasm could open under the stage if all the trap-doors were opened simultaneously.

That's just one of the unusual aspects of the building behind ASB North Wharf, opposite the yet-to-be-built $200 million Park Hyatt.

Chic industrial meets warm wood, all with a touch of the unexpected in New Zealand's most sophisticated new dramatic building.

Architect Gordon Moller, working with colleague Terry St George, designed the building which has a large, ground-level foyer with exposed aggregate polished floors, offset by cedar and American ash doors, walls, balustrades and panels.

That gives warmth and personality to the public area with its box office, cafe with industrial kitchen, cloak room, circular three-level staircase and expansive bar facing 15m of glass, bifold doors. Those open out on to the Logan Campbell Yard, allowing the ultimate indoor/outdoor flow as patrons gather before and after events.

A statement row of stylish David Trubridge light shades floats above the bar. LED coloured lights transform the bar from cool purples to warm greens and oranges, all able to be enclosed behind full-height, gliding, wooden doors. Larsen points out how much of the foyer lighting resembles theatre spotlights.

A new glass-walled airbridge links the theatre to the bank building, which itself has a large theatre.

A glass lift - its back wall lined with cedar - and an eye-catching staircase with wooden balustrades enable theatre-goers to get to the main theatre entrance on level one.

Back-of-house, a string of VIP dressing rooms have their own private en suites. Two separate mens' and ladies' dressing rooms, each with 20 seats, have Hollywood lighting, pin boards, storage areas and en suites. Larsen estimates the entire building had about 60 toilets.

A scissor lift is capable of carrying 4 tonnes, so a car could be brought into the theatre, Larsen said.

Alun Larsen, Hawkins Construction project manager in the makeup room for the new ASB Waterfront Theatre. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Alun Larsen, Hawkins Construction project manager in the makeup room for the new ASB Waterfront Theatre. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Perhaps one of the more eye-catching aspects is a three-storey, back-of-the-theatre wall facing Halsey St, where Larsen said 10,000 LED lights were installed, ready for a magical display. Lighting art on that wall would be visible as far away as from the Sky Tower, he said.

In nearly three decades working in the construction sector, Larsen said this job was by far the most special, partly due to problems.

"Theatres are most difficult to build. This is my favourite in terms of how it's been - technically and the challenges - in my 28 years," Larsen said.

Inside the big, state-of-the-art theatre itself, he said Moller referred to it as a "cedar crucible" as it had so much wood cladding.

Each seat has a lighting diffuser beneath it to ensure soft safety lighting during a production. Those diffusers, which appear like glowing lanterns, also dispense cool, warm and fresh air, Larsen said.

Acoustic panels ensure sound absorption. But the Herald couldn't film inside the theatre as a "big reveal" is planned in the next few weeks.

The official theatre opening is on September 22 and on September 24 a public open day is being held. The first performance will be on October 7, with Billy Elliot the Musical.

What's inside?

• Full-height, bifold, street-level glazing reveals all

• Doors fold back to enable indoor/outdoor flow

• 3-level circular staircase at Halsey/Madden intersection

• High-tech theatre with 24 secret trapdoors embedded in stage floor

• Lighting/air conditioning diffusers beneath each seat for maximum comfort

• Glass, level-one airbridge connects new theatre building to ASB North Wharf

• Entertaining/bar/cafe areas in the ground-level foyer

• Villa Maria events/function room on level 1

• Back-of-house amenities include VIP, mens' and ladies' dressing rooms

• First Southern Hemisphere theatre designed for 5 Green Star rating

- NZ Herald

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