Blending old and new — Nelson’s Suter Gallery

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Built in the late 19th Century, Nelson’s Suter Art Gallery is one of New Zealand’s oldest galleries, sharing its walls with art lovers for well over 100 years.

And now, with a $12 million makeover that merges historic features with modern architecture, the gallery is attracting a new generation of visitors.

Winner of the Civic category and a Gold Award at this year’s New Zealand Commercial Project Awards, the judges praised the gallery’s overall finishing — inside and out — describing it as a “wonderful asset to the city of Nelson”.

The building is designed by Jerram Tocker Barron Architects, in association with Warren & Mahoney Architects, with engineering by Opus International Consultants and Scott Construction completing the build.

The design team carefully worked to blend old and new — with all existing buildings replaced except for the theatre and heritage-listed original gallery, which has been fully restored and seismically strengthened.

The entrance, once hidden behind the reception wall, is on show again, with the original window frames painted in “Nelson Red”.

Other features, such as the beams in the original gallery, have been exposed, while the matai floorboards have been retained after first being lifted (as one piece) to allow for earthquake strengthening, and then lowered again.

A new boardwalk through native bush connects the gallery with the neighbouring Queen’s Gardens. Plinths hidden amongst the plants enable it to function as an outdoor gallery, known as the Pastorius Waller International Sculpture Walk.

The exterior of the building is a mixture of basalt tiles, zinc cladding and floor-to-ceiling glass windows designed to reflect the surroundings and blend into the landscape.

The project team was also commended for its ability to respond to the many challenges posed by upgrading a historic building with innovative methods.

Said the judging panel: “This was a challenging project in many ways: seismic upgrading of sensitive heritage buildings, a new building adjoining existing buildings of differing levels, a fixed budget, numerous stakeholders, and an extremely tight construction site incorporating protected trees.

“The client/consultant/construction team met these challenges with highly innovative responses, including a novel construction process to temporarily raise an entire heritage floor structure in order to provide a safe platform for ceiling work, as well as providing unrestricted access to foundations.”

Following the official opening last year, Suter Gallery director Julie Catchpole said it had been a great success, and people were pleased with the new gallery.

“Lots of Nelsonians feel really proud of this facility, and the most frequent remarks were that this feels like a gallery that could be in any big city anywhere around the world,” Ms Catchpole says.

“I think that’s quite remarkable.”

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