Planting is under way in Whangārei toward creating the largest afforested rooftop in the southern hemisphere.
Up to 150 trees will be crane-lifted on to the roof of the Hundertwasser Art Centre with Wairau Māori Art Gallery at the Town Basin, ahead of its December 2021 opening with 28 lifted and planted yesterday.
Around 130 natives, plus a further 2500 ground-cover plants with an estimated value of $100,000, have been donated by Tawapou Coastal Native Nursery, ranging in size between 1-3m and set to grow up to 5m.
The trees were trucked in two instalments from Tutukaka, where they had been raised over the last five years at the nursery owned by Guy and Sandra Bowden.
Guy said he had backed the Hundertwasser Art Centre (HAC) project from the early days.
"My wife and I started growing them with our staff about four or five years ago and offered to supply the trees as a gift from us to the project."
The natives comprise 30 varieties including Three Kings titoki, tawapou, Chatham Island nikau, kōwhai and rare pittosporum from the Hikurangi swamp. Bowden said the idea was to keep the trees small as there was limited soil depth which, with the irregular roofline design, varied up to 700mm deep.
"It's all about the weight. It would probably have to be one of the most engineered roofs in the country," he commented.
Friedensreich Hundertwasser celebrated irregular lines and contrasting textures and colours, and the construction has involved tens of thousands of coloured tiles and 40,000 recycled red bricks.
At a later date, fruit trees would be planted on the rooftop, along with 2500 ground cover plants.
HAC communications spokesman Greg Hay described Bowden's generosity as an "absolutely wonderful charitable offer".
"We're so grateful to Tawapou for the love they've put into those plants and this has been happening for years, so it's not something that's happened overnight. It's an example of the community spirit that's surrounded this project right from the start. So many organisations have donated and I think it really speaks volumes to the ownership that the community has got for the Hundertwasser."
It was 1993 that Hundertwasser was asked to design an art centre for Whangārei but it wasn't until 2015 that it got under way, after a Whangārei District Council referendum asked how the public wished the former site of the Harbour Board building to be used.
More than 50 per cent voted to build the art centre, and the pace increased with fundraising beginning. Work on the controversial $33.2 million project began nearly three years ago and has employed more than 500 people of various trades.
Around 540 cubic metres of soil – about 5400 wheelbarrow loads – has been lifted on to the building over the last month. The soil, from Greenfingers, was a custom mix designed especially for the roof by landscape architects.
As well as being the largest afforested roof in the southern hemisphere, Hay said the rooftop would provide a mini forest open to the public and was different to a green roof, which involves grass and vegetation rather than trees.
Predictions had been that international travellers would comprise 42 per cent of visitors to the completed HAC, so management was working with the tourism sector to align goals and devise a marketing plan to entice New Zealanders to visit the centre.
The HAC will house the only permanent collection of Hundertwasser works outside Austria and be the new home of the Wairau Māori Art Gallery, a national gallery dedicated to contemporary Māori art.
It's the world's last authentic building design by the late Austrian-born artist and architect and the only art centre outside Vienna to host his original art.