Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Otorohanga Building, Visitors Centre

Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitors Centre, Architecture Workshop New Zealand, Building

Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand : Visitors Centre

Otorohanga Building – design by Architecture Workshop

31 Oct 2010

New Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitors Centre

Waitomo, Otorohanga, North Island, New Zealand

Design: Architecture Workshop

The ancient Waitomo caves were formed from the limestone transported by water over thousands of years. The architecture of the new visitor’s center emphasises the connection with the Waitomo stream and the flows of water running through the caves. The woven timber and ETFE gridshell canopy spans both the entrance and exit paths to the historic Gloworm Caves. The canopy gridshell is aligned with the curve of the Waitomo stream. It reinforces the generating idea for this project of the canopy in combination with the caves, create a positive and a negative – a simple lightweight ‘sky shell’ to counterpoint the subterranean cave space that is dissolved and moulded out of the ground.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre
images from NZIA

The caves are located about a kilometre from the local township and the cave entrance accessed on an upper path from the bus arrival and carpark areas. The journey through the caves returns the visitors back alongside the stream exit on a lower pathway. Between these access paths the new tourist amenities were accommodated within a simple base structure that extended the contours of the land. The amenities included tourist muster areas, 250-seat dining, retail, seminar and exhibition areas as well as a café and theatre for client partnership of Tourism Holdings Ltd ,the local Maori tribes and the NZ Department of Conservation. 500,000 tourists visit the site per annum.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre
image from FD

The geometry of the canopy is described by the surface of a toroid and Radiata pine LVL (laminated veneer lumber) was prefabricated into curved (and twisted) ribs offsite. These timber I-beams were joined in three section, overlapped in layers, then screwed together as they were assembled on site by the contractor. The weaving of the timber structure to create a timber net or ‘gridshell’ is recalled by the local ‘hapu’ as a hinaki or Maori eel trap. The gridshell was calculated locally and peer reviewed in the UK. The strengths achieved with NZ pine LVL and an innovative neoprene “soft’ connection with the overcladding received favourable comment.

Inflated ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene) air pillows were tethered over the gridshell structure like a tent fly. The long translucent pillows are structurally efficient in spans of 4-5m and followed the lines of the LVL ribs. The gridshell was designed to span across the existing pathways and provide some shelter in the journey to and from the caves as well as maintain a strong connection to the established native Kahikatea bush. The form of the base is distinguished and separate from the toroidal geometry of the overhead canopy.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre
images from NZIA

New Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitors Centre information from Architecture Workshop


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