Bending steel for an artist's wall

Fabricating the Len Lye Centre's 32-tonne stainless steel facade is a huge challenge for Taranaki company Rivet.

However, the owner of the New Plymouth business, Steve Scott, says he is loving every minute of it.

The $2 million project to construct the 14-metre-high facade of the New Plymouth centre, which will showcase the work of film maker and kinetic sculptor Len Lye, was a pleasant change from making sinks, hand rails and tanks, Scott said.

"The technical challenge is the best part of the job - the guys love a good challenge." In total, he said the project would equate to the equivalent of a year's work for six staff.

The company had to buy new laser- cutting machinery and create new tooling in-house in order to be able to fabricate the facade, which will be made up of about 510 panels of stainless steel.

The 3000 square metre Len Lye Centre, attached to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, was designed by architect Andrew Patterson and is being built by New Plymouth company Clelands Construction.

The total cost of the project, which has been 100 per cent externally funded with zero council borrowing or contribution from New Plymouth District ratepayers, is $11.5 million.

Scott said he spent about six months working with Patterson and Clelands Construction on a facade design they were all happy with and that Scott was confident could be engineered.

About 32 tonnes of the mirror sheet - grade 316 stainless steel - was ordered from a Japanese mill, which Scott said was the only place that could make that grade of steel to the size required.

It was then sent to Taiwan to be polished to a level 8, mirror-like finish. Again, Scott said Taiwan was the only place with the facilities to polish metal of that size to the finish required.

He said he did not know of any other buildings that were constructed of such a material. The tooling developed by Rivet enabled the company to create a curve in the steel panels that was exactly as the architect wanted.

The panels, each measuring 2.8 metres by 1.5m, would fit into each other like a jigsaw to create the Len Lye Centre's facade, which would run along Devon and Queen streets.

Scott said though joins would be visible, they would be as minimalistic as possible.

Rivet, which was established by Scott and his father 22 years ago, became involved with the project at the beginning of 2013 after the tender for construction was awarded to Clelands. Stainless steel was chosen by the architect for the facade because it was, in a sense, a local material.

"It's sort of like using the local stone and architects always like using local products," Patterson told the Taranaki Daily News in 2011.

"If you use local material, you engage local industry and expertise." He said Taranaki's stainless steel industry was one of the best in the world, because of the dairy industry.

Scott said he would not have taken on the project if he wasn't 100 per cent sure it could be done.

"I was confident we could do it. We often push the boundaries." By September the panels should start being installed, he said, and the job had to be completed by December. The Len Lye Centre is due to open next year.

Scott said before the panels could be installed, curved concrete walls being made by a Whanganui company using a mould also fabricated by Rivet needed to be erected.

In Rivet's Strandon workshop, sheet metal worker Ian Smith was busy welding away at the framing that would go behind the panels to hold them in place.

He had been working on the project since November, he said, adding with a grin that he was looking forward to seeing the end of it.

Scott also looked forward to seeing the finished product and he was proud to be part of the project.

"I think it will look pretty cool. And if the job's going to go ahead, we might as well be doing it."

Taranaki Daily News