Growing gold

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Creating a visitor’s centre complete with a working nursery in the midst of a busy tourist destination was a challenge — but one that produced award-winning results.

The vision was simple — create a space where visitors can learn more about Canterbury’s unique flora and fauna and enjoy a stylish, serene setting.

But building a visitor’s centre complete with a shop, cafe, library, function and meeting rooms, an exhibition area, green and shade houses, staff offices, herbarium and potting shed located in the middle of the busy Christchurch Botanic Gardens was never going to be easy.

But, according to the project team behind the award-winning build, extensive pre-planning, attention to detail and communication between all partners meant the project was carried out successfully.

“It was a complex structure, and had to be all pre-finished so that we could get it in and get going from day one,” Leighs Construction South Island operations manager Graeme Earl says.

“Many of the materials also had long lead times, such as the glass coming from overseas, so that had to be taken into account in our planning. Our project manager is a structural engineer by profession, so had an excellent understanding of exactly what was needed.”

The finished Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre is an incredible achievement, attracting strong support from the public and industry experts, plus a string of accolades.

The winner of the Tourism and Leisure category in the 2015 New Zealand Commercial Project Awards, the building also went on to win the top Public Architecture award at the 2015 New Zealand Institute of Architects Awards.

Constructed from glass and steel, most of the building was manufactured and pre-finished off site with the surface and material finishes all exposed.

3D modelling was extensively used to co-ordinate very minimal tolerances between all the components, particularly the connections between the structural steel frame, the complex glass panels, the precast concrete panels and the ceilings.

The extensive use of glass allows a great sense of spaciousness and connectedness between the interior and exterior environments.

Mr Earl says the team has received “exceptional feedback” on the project, and learned a lot of valuable lessons from the construction that they have gone on to use in future projects, such as their current project, the ANZ Building in the Christchurch CBD.

“Our team thoroughly enjoyed the project because it was challenging. It’s way up there in my list of top projects,” he says.

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