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New wing at Serjeant Gallery to be named after Whanganui River leader

Report from LDR
Whanganui River artists have begun co-design workshops with architects and engineers to finalise design elements in the redevelopment of Whanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua.

The major build includes a new wing to be named in honour of Whanganui River leader, the late Sir Archie Taiaroa. The project – the largest arts development in Whanganui since the Gallery was completed in 1919 – is expected to cost nearly $50 million.

Redevelopment project director Gaye Batty says naming the new wing Te Pātaka o Sir Te Atawhai Archie John Taiaroa acknowledges the esteemed Whanganui kaumātua and his significant leadership.

The Pātaka has been designed by Christchurch architects Warren and Mahoney Architects, which won an international design competition in 1999, and is now working with mana whenua to ensure the new wing is “fit for purpose”.

The existing historic building is built in a cruciform neo-classical style, capped by an oculus in a prominent dome. It sits at Pukenāmu, a hill and ancient pā site at the centre of Whanganui. The iconic building houses a regional art museum with a renowned collection of international and New Zealand art.

The new three-level Pātaka will be attached to the rear of the Gallery by a glass atrium and bridge. It will include a waharoa, galleries, event spaces, a temperature and humidity-controlled store for the Sarjeant collection, a café and a shop.

A group of mana whenua artists led by Cecelia Kumeroa has been working alongside cultural expression lead Rangi Kipa to co-design the cultural elements. Kipa, who has whakapapa to Whanganui, has experience in the co-ordination of cultural design with construction, and was the cultural design lead on the award-winning New Plymouth airport project.

Kumeroa said more than 20 artists of the Whanganui River contributed ideas for the thematic concept.

“Our artists are from the top to the mouth of the river. We’ve been in the design process coming up with an overarching thematic concept to ensure that our mana whenua designs are installed into this space, and are part of the architecture and not just an afterthought,” Kumeroa said.

“Under a lot of pressure, we came up with a thematic expression in a tight timeframe, but it’s a sound concept and we’re really happy with it.

“It’s a huge opportunity for us to see mana whenua design on this scale, on our whenua, in a space that’s so significant.”

Kumeroa says in the next stage of the co-design process, a core group of river artists will workshop over several months with the architects and redevelopment team to solidify plans. She says their vision can’t be made public and no concept drawings would be made available until it is worked through with construction experts.

“We do have some big ideas that we’d like to share,” Kumeroa said. “Let’s see what we come up with after these workshops.

“The concept draws on design unique to the Whanganui River but we have a very contemporary look in mind. As mana whenua artists we have some huge ideas and it’s really exciting. It’s also quite a heavy responsibility.

“We’ve been doing a deep dive into our visual language and coming up with some great stuff. You will recognise Whanganui – and unmistakeably Whanganui – but you’ll see it in contemporary materials and on a large scale. It’s about the river.”

The overarching concept came together only after talking with Sir Archie’s hapū and iwi of the upper reaches and members of Ngāti Hāua, Kumeroa said. She said it speaks to the legacy of Sir Archie and is guided by Tupua Te Kawa, the guiding values of Te Awa Tupua/the Whanganui River.

Warren and Mahoney Architects says the Pātaka references its history and context in the spirit of New Zealand and Māori art traditions, with the land, river and sea “as a continuum, linking our origins and our destinies”.

The iconic south-facing façade will continue to be the face of the new complex. Batty said the 103-year-old building was being earthquake strengthened using the post strand tensioning technique.

The redevelopment was the largest arts development in the lower North Island since Te Papa was built and was at about the mid-way mark, with work expected to be completed in late 2023.

“The reopening of the redeveloped Sarjeant Gallery is likely to be three or four months after the construction completion date – this is the period that the Gallery staff move into the building, test the building and also set up the reopening exhibitions,” Batty said.

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