Patterson Associates – Len Lye Centre: Giants of New Zealand art…

“The artist constructs a new symbol with his brush.  This symbol is not a recognizable form of anything which is already finished, already made, already existing in the world – it is a symbol of a new world, which is being built upon and which exists by way of people.”  El Lissitzky

El Lissitzky’s comment describes Patterson Associate’s Len Lye centre at the Govet Brewster in New Plymouth New Zealand.  Patterson’s monumental building embraces holism in the manifestation of that ‘symbol of the new world’.  As the only gallery dedicated to a single artist in New Zealand in conjunction with the importance of that artist to the canon of New Zealand art the building had to be bold and uncompromising; it had to lead from the front.

“The Len Lye Centre is designed to fulfil multiple requirements. It needed to integrate with a proposed new art and cultural precinct which links through to the commercial heart of the city and it also needed to seamlessly merge with an existing Art Gallery facility and to focus the eyes of the art world on Len Lye…” Govet Brewster Gallery

The face of New Plymouth and New Zealand has changed irrevocably because of this building.  Henceforth a new paradigm exists in which to consider Len Lye, the Govet Brewster and New Zealand architecture.  It is a well-known fact that bespoke art galleries attract tourists and visitors, a point especially relevant in smaller centres.  If you think about it, when arriving in a city for the first time, one of the key things on most lists is a visit to the public art gallery.  In this way it is possible to become acquainted with local history, what the community values, how the community projects itself and what that community identifies with.

While a little more sedate than the Patterson edifice, the UK’s Turner Contemporary has led a cultural resurgence in the town of Margate on the Kentish coast.  Similarly, Hastings in the UK engaged HAT Projects to design the beautiful Jerwood Gallery as the centrepiece of a cultural precinct on the waterfront.  In 2016 the Hastings city plan definitively placed culture at the centre of a revival.  Hastings would harness social and economic opportunities by concentrating on cultural initiatives to invigorate the city going into the 21st century.

Since the Turner opened in 2011 close to a million people have visited (visitors who otherwise would not have come) because the gallery provides a focal point. It has become a beacon for the area and has transformed the place of Margate and subsequently, how Margate is now viewed locally, nationally and internationally.   The Turner has proved its critics wrong, decisively justifying its presence in terms of visitor numbers to both the gallery and of course the town of Margate with its impressive 19th century history.  What could be better.

“By looking at trends influencing cities today we create communities for the future.” Patterson Associates

With significant stature the Len Lye Centre will benefit the area in both predictable and unpredictable ways.  The Govet Brewster and Len Lye’s legacy notwithstanding, creatives will be drawn to New Plymouth because the Patterson building confers authority and cultural insight.  The greater impact will flow from the holistic approach on one hand and the dam busting singularity of the building’s art on the other.  On a superficial level the enigmatic stainless steel exterior interacts dynamically with light and the visible world around it producing a quasi-kinetic effect; it is a building perpetually offering impressions of the landscape not seen before.  Thus, a vibrant work of art, whilst more broadly, a prodigious public sculpture.

Correspondingly the experience of Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid ‘s Port of Antwerp building demonstrates that the unique nature and quality of the building comments on the importance of great architecture to the definition of place and to the idea of that place.  Hadid’s Port of Antwerp as been described as literally and symbolically pointing the way to the Port’s progress and expansion in the 21st century.  Additionally, as predicted the identity of Antwerp has changed forever because of it, “The Port House is designed to be an open house, welcoming foreign visitors and local citizens alike…to meet the growing demand and there are numerous requests for events, visits and receptions by national and international companies.

Although the international buildings listed above have derived  benefits from slightly different emphases, similarly New Plymouth will prosper from the Len Lye centre, not only culturally (specifically and universally) but also socially and economically.  Locals and visitors will feel the efficacy of the long term investment, the new found sense of moving forward, of energy and innovation, of educative importance and worthiness, of cultural expansion.

Not surprisingly the governing values of Patterson Associates, the Govet Brewster as well as Len Lye’s art have people at their centre.   The Govet Brewster claims to represent people from all walks of life.  Similarly Patterson Associates places people at the centre of their practice,

If a building can feel like it naturally ‘belongs’, or fits logically in a place, to an environment, a time and culture, then the people that inhabit the building will likely feel a sense of belonging there as well. This methodology connects theories of beauty, confidence, economy and comfort.  Patterson Associates

Len Lye himself was a down home pioneering boy.  His fascination with all things mechanical and movable drove his art and film making.  Ahead of his time his greatest works have been described as both “a full body experience and unforgettable.”   The Len Lye structure is equally unforgettable; ironically so much part of everyday life while directing the inspirational light of motivation into the decades ahead.  It had to be well ahead of its time so that the growing interest and scholarship around Len Lye was able to expand in sympathetic surroundings; so that the big ideas (not yet thought of) had a home of equal magnitude and breadth, of understanding and confidence to expand in.

Contiguously, the Govet Brewster has always mined profound and international trends in art and as such they would have expected a lot from the designers of the Len Lye Centre.  Patterson Associates knew the international world of art and architecture would be on them and what they have delivered commands its place in the canon of global architecture.

As the intricate details and dates of Len Lye’s work show, he too was courageous, farsighted and holistic in his thinking.  “Lye once said: “My work I think is going to be pretty good for the 21st century. Why the 21st? It’s simply that there won’t be the means until then, I don’t think there’ll be the means to have what I want, which is enlarged versions of my work.” He entrusted the Foundation with the task of realizing some of his plans for large-scale works once the technology improved or became affordable. This work is on-going.” Len Lye Foundation

With big shoes to fill the team at Patterson’s may well have experienced terrifying moments at the prospect of honouring Len Lye; the world now knows the weight of responsibility was appropriately distilled to produce a building worthy of this colossos in ‘the art of motion’.

“Lye’s work was not only unlike Calder’s mobiles, but also unlike most European kinetic art because he did not use geometrical forms and hi-tech control (in the spirit of the Bauhaus or the Constructivist movement). His work was very body-oriented – Lye’s sculpture dances. He emphasized vibration and sometimes ferocious energy.”

The building has to endure and connect confidentially, timelessly and effortlessly with the public, Len Lye’s ideas and his legacy and the ongoing scholarship into his work. In other words, the building should have a span of creativity which is equal to and as ground breaking as the reason for the building in the first place.  And it should do this from every imaginable viewpoint, actually and theoretically, inside and out; fly or elephant.  Inside is equally impressive in terms of the overwhelming sense of grandeur; the towering concrete forms send minute bells exploding through one’s bloodstream!  Standing at the base of the concrete structures looking up, it would be easy to imagine having glimpsed ‘a symbol of the new world’ such is the quiet beauty, towering strength and exclusive design.

The art of Len Lye has been honoured accordingly – what a great privilege for Patterson Associates and now the world can know about two giants of art not just one.

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