Every year, half a million tourists visit Waitomo Caves: one of the main attractions of the New Zealand tourism industry. The limestone caves are operated in partnership with local iwi and private tourism company THL; a bi-cultural joint venture that resulted from the first Waitangi Treaty settlements in Aotearoa. This new visitor’s centre - replacing the fire-destroyed remains of the previous one - now offers dining for 240 people, as well as booking, retail and exhibition amenities arranged along the circulation paths to and from the caves. A structurally innovative laminated veneer lumber (LVL) grid shell forms a lightweight canopy over the paths, with the amenities placed in between. The grid structure evokes a hinaki or eel net and is set out by the curve of the Waitomo stream that also flows through the caves. Clad with clear ETFE inflated pillows, the visitors can enjoy the vault of the sky as a counterpoint to the glowworm caves beneath.
Imaginatively conceived and masterfully executed, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre confidently demonstrates that, in New Zealand, a building in a landscape can be an attraction in its own right...The commercial programme has been accommodated in a transcendent structure, poetic in its form and protean in its readings. An inspired design has been translated into an inspirational building.
NZIA Architecture Medal Jury Citation (2011)
World Architecture Festival Awards, Barcelona, 2011 Shortlisted
NZIA Architecture Medal, 2011
ACENZ Gold Award of Excellence, 2011
Lightweight Structures Association of Australasia, High Commendation, 2011
Association of Consulting Engineers Gold Award of Excellence, 2011
Waikato / Bay of Plenty Local NZIA Awards, 2010
Australia and New Zealand Timber Design Awards, 2010
NZ Wood Timber Design Award, 2010
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Waitomo Visitors Centre, Last Loneliest Loveliest, Venice Biennale exhibition, The NZ Pavilion, 2014
Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre, UIA, 24th World Congress of Architecture, Tokyo, 2011