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Bespoke roof-access hatch for the Len Lye Contemporary Art Museum

New Plymouth’s Len Lye museum is New Zealand’s only museum dedicated to one artist — the “artist’s artist” Len Lye. It cost over $11.5 million to build, and with a façade of 14-metre reflective panels, it is a sight to behold.

A crane is used to get artworks in and out of the museum through the roof. The original design specified a mechanised roof-access hatch. However, this design proved to be cost prohibitive. In 2015, we were approached by the architects, Patterson Associates, to see if we could come up with a more cost-effective solution.

It starts with a conversation

Of course, we were pleased to be involved, so we met with Patterson Associates. Like with any project, it’s important to understand the issues and what needs to be achieved. So, we spent time discussing possible solutions.

To the drawing board

After some brainstorming, we came up with a design. The original roof-access hatch was designed to open automatically so artworks could pass through. We knew a crane would be used to move the art, so why not use it for the roof-access hatch, too? That was our solution: a roof-access hatch that could be removed by crane and put back when required. As you might expect, this simpler design was much cheaper.

Built for the conditions

New Zealand weather conditions can be harsh on building materials. And as the museum is located in New Plymouth, we also had to factor in coastal conditions. So, we built the hatch at our Auckland workshop from argon-welded marine-grade aluminium. The hatch was 6m x 3m. So, to get it to New Plymouth in one piece, we built a special frame to sit on the truck.

The result

As well as the roof-access hatch, we also built a number of electrically actuated ceiling doors. It was a great project to be involved in, and as we delivered on spec, on time and within budget, Patterson Associates were pleased with the result.

Photo: Patterson Associates Limited