The Waitomo Caves are a popular tourist attraction located near Otorohanga in the Central North Island Region. In 2005, fire struck the original Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre, destroying the building. It was a huge blow to the community who rallied together to keep the caves open for everyone to enjoy.
The new Visitor Centre at Waitomo Caves has been hailed as an internationally significant building that inspires tourists and locals alike. This project which ATS Timber supplied a significant amount of timber into through a nearby approved reseller has taken out three of the top prizes at the NZ Wood Timber Design Awards for 2010.
The three awards it won were the ‘Commercial Architectural Excellence’ the ‘Commercial Engineering Excellence’ and the ‘Clever Solutions Award.’
Floating over the whole arrangement of paths, enclosed volumes and decks is a woven timber roof that shelters visitors from the road edge up to the point where the paths to and from the caves disappear into the bush. The space created under the roof is an intriguing blur of interior and exterior, the character of the space shifting depending on one’s position and direction of view.
The geometry of the roof bends to follow the shape of the hillside and the curve of the Waitomo Stream below, the tube thus forming a part of a toroid or doughnut shape. On paper, this rotationally derived shape is highly regular and the ribs all follow the same circular arc, a cunning repetition which helps keep the extravagant architectural gesture of the roof affordable. However, moving from abstract geometry to physical construction involved all kinds of complications.
The building exudes an air of confident casualness that seems perfectly attuned to our ‘100% Pure’ tourist branding. Intriguingly, there was a touch of Bilbao-ism about the commission for the project, as the clients’ intention was to create a flagship building for New Zealand tourism.