Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Brian Rudman: Crunchy-centred Albert Park may decide gallery's future

It seems, volcanically speaking, that Albert Park is something of a chocolate peanut. A crunchy centre of ancient sandstone, covered by a thick coating of volcanic tuff. Whether that's enough to qualify it for the protection that volcanic cones and slopes qualify for under the 1915 Act guarding Auckland's volcanic heritage, is up for debate.

Geologist Bruce Hayward says it doesn't. To him, soft centres don't qualify. However the Auckland Volcanic Cones Society is not so sure and is digging into it further. Normally it wouldn't really matter. But with the art gallery redevelopment digging into the sides of Albert Park, the fate of the project could rest on who is judged correct.

Dr Hayward's report reveals "Albert Park Volcano" is something of a misnomer. It turns out the eruption site is not where you'd expect it to be on top of the hill where Queen Victoria sits, but down the city side of the park, centred on the Metropolis tower block.

It was a baby by Auckland standards, only spewing scoria as far as present-day Victoria St, a city block back from the art gallery.

When it blew its stack 60,000 years ago, it put on a good show. Albert Park and the art gallery site were "blanketed in a veneer (up to 8m thick) of volcanic ash." The soft sandstone centre was exposed when tunnels were dug under Albert Park at the outbreak of World War II.

But if Albert Park isn't a volcano, then neither is volcanic ash anything like the stuff that ends up in your fireplace ash pan after a cold winter's evening. Wayne Birchall, group construction manager, Kitchener Group, can testify to that.

His team struck ash recently when putting down the foundations for the Precinct apartment buildings, which stretch from Kitchener St to Lorne St, not far from the art gallery. The ash was "extremely solid, like scoria" and on the Lorne St frontage, 50m thick.

Dr Hayward's opinion is that the bulk of Albert Park "and certainly the art gallery site ... never was part of the Albert Park volcanic cone" and therefore "could not be considered to be the slopes of volcanic cones or craters."

Meanwhile, two big guns emerged yesterday in support of building a new iconic art museum as the destination attraction of the waterfront Tank Farm redevelopment.

A longtime supporter of the waterfront art museum idea, Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee has kept his his head down until now for fear of getting it knocked off by Auckland City rivals.

But he thinks it's such "an absolutely marvellous" solution to the quest for a landmark centrepiece for the redevelopment, that he had to speak out.

"We don't need an opera house, and a convention centre for fat guys with ID tags doesn't really do it for Aucklanders. But a really wonderful new art gallery, why not? We have a strong graphic art tradition in this country." He sees an inspirational building, surrounded by open space with a grand, marae style forecourt for formal civic ceremonies.

"We use the vision word so much, but where is it when you need it?"

With leases running out by 2016, he says that's only 10 years away, "which is nothing." The $90 million planned for renovating and expanding the existing gallery, would be "a handsome start."

Former art gallery director Christopher Johnstone did not want to criticise the development work of his successor, Chris Saines.

He said he "started to think, was it worth the candle," when he heard of the extent of the earthquake proofing needed on the old building.

If, on top of the earthquake proofing, obstacles like the 1915 Act cause more "impediments" to the redevelopment project then he believes "a spectacular new building on the waterfront would be the way to go." It's something he has argued in private for two years and so far lost.

He says that, "generally speaking, from a professional point of view, a new building is going to be far more cost effective than a remodelled old building." It's also likely to attract more public and private patronage.

As for the existing heritage gallery building, he suggests stripping it back to its original structure and creating a Museum of Auckland - MOA - with changing displays from all of Auckland's galleries and museums.

Let the debate continue.


Blogger JasonSpalding said...

Mikhail Gorbachev awarded The Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. Recently didn't deny the return of the cold war of course he didn't comfirm it. Glasnost!

8:48 AM  

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