26 Feb 2014

Hundertwasser gallery project put on hold

10:38 pm on 26 February 2014

The Whangarei District Council is putting spending on its Hundertwasser project on hold, pending a community survey.

It has previously approved spending $8 million on an art gallery designed by the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who lived near Kawakawa for many years before his death in 2000.

It also has funding applications in for the remaining $2 million it needs to go ahead with the project.

Eight councillors moved to delete the project from the annual plan at Wednesday's council meeting but a majority voted to defer a decision and hold a telephone opinion poll, to find out what the Whangarei community wants.

A packed public gallery cheered loudly for councillors who spoke in favour of the project, while opponents were less vocal.

A survey of 1000 people published in Tuesday's Northern Advocate newspaper shows 719 people in favour of the project, with 377 against.

Opponents of the gallery object to the $8 million ratepayers would be required to contribute to the project, and the unusual design. Supporters say the cost is relatively modest, and the gallery would put Whangarei on the map, just as the Hundertwasser toilets have made Kawakawa a tourist magnet.

Meanwhile, a leading architect says a Hundertwasser gallery in Whangarei would be a significant drawcard for travellers from around the world.

The president-elect of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, Pip Cheshire, says the Hundertwasser factor would make the gallery an important building, regardless of whether people like the design or hate it.

He says many travellers are interested in Hundertwasser, and in unusual buildings, and he has no doubt people would flock to the gallery.

"An architect might say that it's a somewhat obvious idea but I think that that probably makes it more powerful," Mr Cheshire says. "That is, the quintessential elements of Hundertwasser's art made into a building - nature dominating, trees on top, buildings underneath, located on the edge of the water."