1 Jun 2015

Cracks appear in Len Lye Centre floor

3:02 pm on 1 June 2015

A maze of cracks has appeared in the polished concrete floor of the new $11.5 million Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth.

The Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth.

The Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Len Lye Foundation chairman John Matthews, who campaigned to get the centre built, said the finish was not good enough and detracted from the building's aesthetic.

"It is certainly a case of aesthetics and it is very disappointing to have a floor which has a superb finish otherwise to have this massive cracking, very fine cracks in them," Mr Matthews said.

"From my point of view it would be an unacceptable finish in a building that I had built."

John Matthews says hairline cracks in the polished concrete floor of the Len Lye Centre detract from the building's aesthetic.

John Matthews says hairline cracks in the polished concrete floor of the Len Lye Centre detract from the building's aesthetic. Photo: Supplied

Mr Matthews is a director of Technix Industries and earlier this year donated $300,000 so that plaza-style approaches to the Len Lye Centre could be built.

He said the cracking was widespread.

"They're hairline cracks, they're a maze of cracks a bit like spider webs. Well actually no, spider webs have a format to them. These are just all over the place, they're very fine, very hair-like."

Mr Matthews said the cracks were not structural and he thought little could be done to fix them without relaying the floor, which would be impractical.

He believed the cracking had most likely been caused by too few expansion joints being cut into the concrete floor or had something to do with the particular nature of Taranaki concrete.

A trained mechanical engineer, Mr Matthews said he had no idea where the responsibility for this issue would lie.

New Plymouth District Council project director, Gaye Batty, said people did remark about the cracks when they were taken through the building, but they were superficial and nothing to worry about.

"It's a polished concrete floor and there are shrinkage cracks as one would have expected with a huge concrete floor like that," Ms Batty said.

She said expansion cuts had been made in the floor but that you could never predict where cracks would appear.

"We're certainly not concerned that there are hairline cracks in all the gallery floors, in fact, throughout the centre."

Ms Batty said there were no plans to do anything about the cracks.

"Certainly we have no concerns or plans to make any alterations to the floors. The architect is happy with the finish. The floors are as they are."

Ms Batty said she did not believe the cracks would detract from gallery visitors' experience.

"Certainly with the lighting in the galleries we don't consider they will be an issue."

Auckland firm Patterson Associates designed the building.

Its project director, Andrew Mitchell, said shrinkage cracking was expected in a suspended slab floor such as the one in the Len Lye Centre.

"From our point of view it is something every structural engineer in the country on any suspended slab would tell you, shrinkage cracks occur.

"Essentially concrete has water in it and when the water evaporates the remaining material left over can crack. They call it shrinkage cracking because as the material cures it shrinks slightly."

Mr Mitchell said saw cutting was one remedy but because of the structural nature of the floor that was not possible in every situation, such as in this case, so some cracking was expected.

"In an ideal world there would be no shrinkage cracking, but it is just one of those things and we have to live with it really."

Len Lye Centre

The Len Lye Centre has been designed and built so more of the renowned kinetic sculptor's works can be on permanent display.

The artist spent the majority of his career in London and New York after leaving New Zealand in the 1920s, while still aged in his 20s.

He first came to prominence as an experimental filmmaker in London, but later, while living in the United States, became renowned for his kinetic sculpture.

In 1977, the Govett-Brewster presented Kinetic Works, the first-ever survey of his works in the world, and his first exhibition in New Zealand.

Shortly before his death in 1980, Len Lye gifted his collection of work and his archive to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.

John Matthews knew Len Lye personally and said there was some irony in the cracking in the floor because the artist did a series of works based on cracks.

"He would get some doodle ideas out of this for sure."

But they still irritate Mr Matthews.

"They are not full in your face, this is a fine detail. But in terms of beautiful architecture a lot of that beauty is in the fine detail and this is a disappointing one."

The Len Lye Centre is due to open on 25 July alongside the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery which is reopening after earthquake strengthening.

The first exhibition at the centre will be a "best of" called Len Lye Jam Session which will feature an eight metre high version of one his signature works, Fountain.

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