Whangārei's new art centre is finally ready to take the shape of the characteristic Hundertwasser style after essential building material – a collection of colourful ceramics from Germany – arrived this week.
While the region will have to wait another year and a half before the doors to the Hundertwasser Art Centre with Wairau Māori open, project managers say the dull concrete pouring is over and contractors will start a new construction phase, laying the ceramic tiles.
"We are very close to finalising the core construction. We're speaking weeks and days now," Hundertwasser Art Centre with Wairau Māori chief executive Kathleen Drumm said.
Having the ceramics arrive from Germany was the next exciting step of the construction process.
"Whangārei is very fortunate to have many gifted tilers. They will work on the build for the next year."
Drumm said the "lustrous and beautiful" ceramics coming from family business Ebinger Schnass in the spa town of Bad Ems in Germany "are very much part of the Hundertwasser design".
Friedensreich Hundertwasser used the Ebinger Schnass ceramics for his own creations – particularly around his characteristic columns.
The Whangārei Hundertwasser building will have 12 of those columns, including two 4.6m columns at the entrance.
Drumm said the fascinating part about the tiling process was how the ceramics were arranged – not even, yet not random, following Hundertwasser's aversion against straight lines.
"There is a unique kind of symmetry in the way the tiles are placed; as it appears in nature which is harmonious and pleasing to the eye."
The grand opening has been pushed back to Christmas 2021.
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"The good thing about it being late next year is that there is a chance that the tourism industry will have gone a long way to being rebuilt," Drumm said.
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In an earlier study, Northland Inc predicted the art centre's direct economic impact for Northland at $37 million with an ongoing economic impact of $26 million per annum.
Reports by Visitor Solutions, Crowe Horwarth and Deloitte estimated between 140,000 and 220,000 visitors a year.
With New Zealand's borders closed for an indefinite amount of time, it is hard to predict what the outcome will be now.
Vaughan Cooper, Northland Inc's general manager for investment and infrastructure, said the Hundertwasser Art Centre had "real potential to add a unique and exciting dimension to our city".
"We have been working closely with it since day one and believe that, as an exciting and progressive development, it will add substantially to the richness and diversity of our city and community."
Cooper said, although the centre was scheduled to be completed by 2020, delaying the opening was a good decision because it would ensure the product could be marketed successfully, enabling it to tell its story to the best of its ability and bringing in as many visitors as possible.
Northland Inc's general manager for destinations Tania Burt said the art centre would offer a unique proposition for passenger cruises coming into Northport in the future.
"As a premium new arts and cultural attraction, we expect it to play a pivotal role in attracting visitors to the region.
"As a new experience, it will give domestic visitors another reason to return to our beautiful region and its relevance to the European audiences will draw international visitors when time is right for them to return to our shores."
After the latest budget blow-out at the end of last year had been resumed, the construction costs are currently at $30m.
Minister Shane Jones, who symbolically laid the first tile on Wednesday, vouched to back the Hundertwasser project should it run into financial trouble again.
"I have advised the trustees and supporters that I am conscious that due to Covid and a variety of other hiccups that if additional financial assistance is needed from the Provincial Growth Fund, then we'll step up to the plate to ensure the project is finished."
He said a half-complete project would be the worst outcome.
A second Hundertwasser project, the Te Hononga Kawakawa Hundertwasser Park, is closer to being completed and the German ceramics will bring the finishing touch to the construction.
Laurell Pratt, Te Hononga project manager, said her team was back on site since last week and everything was coming together beautifully.
"We're pushing ahead for an early September opening," Pratt said. "Everybody is powering through."
Te Hononga will house a library, a community workshop and an art centre making it a multi-use hub for Kawakawa residents and visitors from afar, and connecting several isolated parts of town.
Pratt emphasised Te Hononga wasn't in competition with the Hundertwasser Arts Centre but both were part of a wider Northland experience.
"Both will be important on the road to recovery after Covid-19 and will put Northland on the map," Pratt said.