Gallery upgrade reveals the past

ONE YEAR GONE: Work is under way on the heritage wings of the art gallery and will soon begin on the new extension.
ONE YEAR GONE: Work is under way on the heritage wings of the art gallery and will soon begin on the new extension.

The stripped-back Auckland Art Gallery showed a glimpse into the city’s history during heritage week.

One year after the start of a $113 million upgrade, a media tour around the site showed how work was progressing.

The development includes restoration, strengthening and modernisation of the 1887 and 1916 components of the building, as well as extensive new works.

Art Gallery director Chris Saines says at the moment the site is a bit like visiting ancient Rome, with layers upon layers of heritage structures visible.

"We’re going to put a lot of the dysfunctional aspects of the old building back into working order," he says.

"A key goal is to make these heritage parts of the building as available as we can."

"We’ve effectively taken the building back to 1916 and then moved forward."

Council heritage manager George Farrant says much of the project so far has been cleaning it back to its original state and from there it will be built up one new layer.

"The whole project’s been a bit of a voyage of discovery," says Mr Farrant.

A spiral staircase at the apex of the Wellesley and Kitchener St wings that has been covered up for several years is to be made available for public viewing.

An impressive feature of the finished gallery will be the reinstatement of the 1916 east gallery which is being recreated based on original plans and photos.

Mr Saines says the old gallery had been "added to and subtracted from" so often that there were 17 different floor heights throughout the building but this will now be levelled down to six.

Once completed in mid-2011, the gallery will provide 50 percent more exhibition space, housing up to 900 artworks.

Councillor and chairwoman of the Art Gallery Board Noelene Raffills says now the most sensitive heritage stages of the project have been completed, work will begin on the first level of the modern extension and the second floor should be in place by Christmas.

Auckland City Harbour News