Build world-class theatre in Hamilton, Dame Malvina Major says
A new Hamilton theatre must aspire to be architecturally stunning, says one of New Zealand's most celebrated performers.
Dame Malvina Major said the region has a prime opportunity to create a world-class venue and cautions against small-minded thinking.
But architectural experts say the pursuit of creating an iconic building will only end in failure and say the focus should be on building a theatre that's uniquely Waikato.
Momentum Waikato recently appointed a governance panel to progress a concept design, master plan and business case for a new regional theatre in Hamilton.
In July, the Hamilton City Council resolved to build a $55 million theatre, with ratepayers contributing a maximum of $30m.
Under the proposal, Momentum Waikato Community Foundation will raise the balance of $25m and oversee the building of the theatre.
Momentum Waikato chairman Leonard Gardner said the governance panel will assemble a coalition of experts with the aim of creating a "truly iconic theatre".
Dame Malvina said New Zealand lacks a world-class theatre and believes the Waikato Regional Theatre Governance Panel should look to the Sydney Opera House for inspiration.
"If you go to Sydney and look at the opera house, you go, wow, look at that, because it's an amazing building and you might not be the slightest bit interested in what happens inside," she said.
"What they got wrong is the acoustics inside the Sydney Opera House, but we have an opportunity in Hamilton to get everything right. We just need to look beyond the next five to 10 years. What frustrates me about people in New Zealand is we put ourselves down and limit ourselves. We should aim to create a theatre that's a destination to travel to from overseas."
But Hamilton architect Andrew Bydder said the look of the new theatre is secondary to its acoustics.
New Zealand has some of the best acoustical engineers in the world, such as Marshall Day Acoustics, and such experts should be involved in the planning.
Bydder said it would be a mistake for Hamilton to try to replicate something out of an international architecture magazine.
"The new theatre should reflect something of the character of the Waikato. [Canadian-American] architect Frank Gehry is famous for his buildings, which look like they're made of crumbled sheets of tinfoil, but I'd hate to see that in Hamilton," Bydder said.
"Our building should capture Waikato's vibrancy. But as much as I like the sheep and sheepdog in Tirau, it can't be that sort of building, either."
Bydder's preference is for a local architect to be involved in the design and said the building's outside walls could serve as screens for images to be projected on to.
The images can be Waikato themes or, when the theatre is in use, it can relate to the performance.
Architectural historian Dr Ann McEwan said there is a danger in trying to design an iconic building and believes it will create unrealistic expectations.
Having exceptional acoustics is a key ingredient in any theatre's success, as evidenced by the Christchurch Town Hall, McEwan said.
A theatre is celebrated because of the performances it hosts.
"In a way, I don't think you can design an iconic building. It's something that evolves over time. It would be putting too much pressure on a $50 million theatre, because it can't be a magnet that solves all our identity woes in one fell swoop."
She said internationally famous buildings, such as Gehry's Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, are not always great buildings to work or perform in and can be one-dimensional.
"I don't think Hamilton is big enough to have a one-dimensional theatre," McEwan said.
Dr Julian Elder, who chairs the governance panel, said expert feedback from around the world will be sought, especially from those involved in building successful regional theatres.
Expert opinion will be informed by the Waikato context.
Elder said the panel will pursue a robust and transparent process with the aim of proposing a theatre which has real benefit to the community.
"This is an intergenerational project that has the opportunity to bring transformational benefits."
Hamilton City Council senior staffer Sean Murray said the panel is likely to report back to councillors in mid-2017.
The panel's work will give the council a clear picture as to whether constructing a theatre is viable.
It will also allow the council to present something tangible to the community for feedback.
"Developing an iconic theatre or iconic design does not necessarily mean big money," Murray said.
"If the design is clever and robust, there is every reason for it to become highly recognisable and appreciated."
- Acoustically designed to both support opera-style singers and voices amplified by microphones
- Fly tower for scenery, drapery and equipment
- Stage to fit a full orchestra of 120
- Sprung stage for ballet performances
- Orchestra pit
- Seats for up to 1200, possibly with a divide to reduce if needed
- Foyer for artwork and displays
Source: Dame Malvina Major