Home of the arts

The new Christchurch’s home for New Zealand arts, Ravenscar House Museum, opened its doors in November. Designed by Patterson Associates, the museum is the vision of philanthropists Susan and the late Jim Wakefield, who gifted it to the people of Canterbury.

According to its architect, Andrew Patterson, the original home where the art was displayed was built in the ’70s and inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was severely damaged by the Christchurch earthquakes. When it came time to rebuild, the Wakefields decided the house museum should be open to the public.

“A house museum is remarkable in that it shows art through the eyes of the people who collect it; it is regarded as an intimate architectural genre,” says Patterson, pointing out that this was a little different: “How do you do a house museum [the collectors] have never lived in?”

For that, the award-winning firm “took [the] dimensions and plan of the old house, took the major rooms, and put them together in a new house — not as a copy … but a contemporary interpretation,” according to Patterson.

Two-dimensional plan shapes were taken from the main living rooms in [the clients’] old home, so they are kind of like ‘ghost rooms’,” he says. “Then the plans were extruded up, each to a separate roof but all of the same pitch/slope. By adjusting the heights of the roofs, we were able to connect them all into one and enable the different rooms to be linked sculpturally into one single house-like form with a museum enfilade (from room to room) circulation.”

This created the stunning external form of the museum, which was expressed in precast concrete panels finished with crushed earthquake rubble — a mix of volcanic stone donated by Christchurch Arts Centre, brick from a demolished house, and Italian granite from another. A glazed gallery overlooks a sculpture terrace and a garden designed by landscape architect Suzanne Turley. 

The art? Ravenscar includes paintings, decorative arts, furniture, and antiquities from the likes of Frances Hodgkins, Colin McCahon, Ralph Hotere, and many other New Zealand artists. 



Images: Sam Hartnett

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