Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua
Warren and Mahoney won the international design competition for extensions to the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui. The existing Sarjeant Gallery, with its symmetrical cruciform plan in its classical language, sits atop the hill in the centre of Whanganui. Its north/south axis dominates the building form but is blocked to the north by a blank window and solid mass of trees beyond. The old entrance is located on the south and faces the city, whereas the east/west axis plan is closed.
By extending the gallery wing to the north with a building form that emphasises the north/south alignment, the important city axis is reinforced and extended on into the landscape toward the Wanganui River and distant Mt Ruapehu. The new gallery wing comprises a three level structure sited to the north of the existing building. A double height, fully glazed entry foyer both separates and connects the old and new parts of the art gallery. This connection only lightly touches the historic building while making a new city connection on the east/west axis of Campbell Street.
The new entry is at ground level at the rear of the existing building. The transparency of this new entry foyer allows the visitor to see through to the park beyond towards the east, as well as towards the distant landscape through the café and function rooms to the north. The transparency of the foyer further enables the visitor to clearly read the old and new parts of the building and to easily orientate themselves on entering the art gallery.
Most of the public facilities are located adjacent to the foyer including the shop, café, education spaces, auditorium and toilets. The gallery reception is immediately inside the entrance and adjacent to the stairway and lift leading to the exhibition areas on the floor above. The café runs along the north side of the building, opening onto a sunny terrace with views towards the river and hills. The shop is placed adjacent to the entrance and is clearly visible from the forecourt. Staff offices occupy the eastern end of this floor and look out onto the park.
New exhibition spaces are located on the upper floor at the existing gallery floor level. Access is via a new stair and lift from the foyer. Primary circulation through the galleries utilises the main north/south axis. A bridge suspended within the entry foyer connects the new exhibition areas to the existing galleries. The bridge is a crossing point between two buildings of distinct architectural styles, representing a point of departure on a journey into the world of art.
A narrow viewing gallery projects at the northern end of the principal axis and provides a meditative view towards the mountains – the birthplace of the river. The existing gallery’s south entry doors are retained for ceremonial occasions, meaning that the principal axis remains open-ended to the landscape at both ends, and assisting the orientation of the visitor within the gallery’s spaces. The basement floor of the new structure contains staff operational areas, increased storage facilities, and a loading dock, all connected by the lift and stair.
The intent of the design is to create a modern extension which is compatible with the old building by maintaining proportions, scale, height, materials and colour, and resulting in a neutral addition which is not visible from the central city and does not compete with the historic building. By glazing the ground floor and separating the upper level from its base, the ‘solid’ gallery element appears to float.
Construction of the new wing is a concrete framed structure with reinforced concrete columns, beams and floor slabs over a concrete basement. Basement walls, where visible externally, are faced with grey stone slabs forming the building’s plinth. Perimeter walls to the top floor are steel framed and clad in Oamaru stone slabs, ensuring that the overall form is finely and minimally detailed. The roof is a steel framed structure.
The historic building will be seismically strengthened with post-tension rods and a new concrete diaphragm floor. These new structural elements will be inserted into the existing building fabric with minimum disruption to the decorative interior spaces.
A new opening was created in the north elevation giving access to the gallery extension at the upper level. The original main entrance and side rooms will be restored and used as a library and members’ area as well as a ceremonial entrance when required. The basement space will be reconfigured to accommodate building services, while the prominent dome and skylights remain.
The design of the gallery extension comprises a simple, legible floor plan which reinforces the architectonic structure of the historic building. This approach expands and enhances the Sarjeant Gallery in a respectful and unthreatening manner. Old and new, present and past cohabit the site connected by a bridge through the foyer, a meeting point of departure or a crossing, representative of a meeting of cultures and the future.
As the creative spirit of New Zealand and Māori art traditions look both to the past and to the future, the new Sarjeant Gallery Wing makes reference to its history and its context, the land, the river and the sea as a continuum, linking our origins and our destinies.