A world centre for Len Lye

Great architecture goes fifty-fifty with great art.

Len Lye, 1964

Len Lye Centre

Len Lye: Four Fountains (2015) in the Large Works gallery, Len Lye Centre. Photo Patrick Reynolds

Len Lye: Four Fountains (2015) in the Large Works gallery, Len Lye Centre. Photo Patrick Reynolds

The Len Lye Centre is an international destination for experimental film and kinetic art. It houses the collection and archive of Len Lye, one of the most original artists of the twentieth century. Pioneer filmmaker, sculptor, painter and poet, his extraordinary body of work gives us a unique view into Modernism and offers a rich vein for inspiration and insight.


Led by a growing interest locally and internationally in his work, the centre opened in 2015 adjoining the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. This state of the art facility houses Lye’s archive, display galleries, an education centre, and a 62-seat cinema. Designed by New Zealand architect Andrew Patterson, the building is a contemporary interpretation of the essence of Lye and a major cultural destination on the Pacific Rim.

Like a Lye sculpture, the shimmering stainless steel façade is a striking and provocative expression of movement. The curtain-like exterior is seemingly fluid as the curved steel reflects and transmits light, activating the spaces within and without. It is a modern day temple, reinterpreting Lye’s fusion of ancient and modern concepts, and his proposition for a ‘temple of art’.

A colonnade, vestibule and inner sanctum are each expressed in new form to provoke an unworldly experience and to challenge the dominance of pure modernism in contemporary architecture. In this temple, art is now the deity, the archive and galleries the sacred spaces. Scale, materials, light and atmosphere are composed as in a film to activate the senses and incite a poetic dimension.

Leading up to his solo exhibition at the Govett-Brewster in 1977, Lye found technical collaborators in New Plymouth courageous and committed enough to realise his kinetic sculptures at a grand scale. The industrial innovation required by local oil and dairy industries, transferred to art and is celebrated in the building in the technically complex façade, and in several large new works on exhibit.

The long association between the Govett-Brewster and the Len Lye Foundation, led to a combined facility with the new centre linked to the existing Govett-Brewster galleries, allowing visitors to appreciate the changing museum and gallery displays within one flexible and shared structure.

‘Len Lye is an inspirational figure that bridged a multitude of creative disciplines including architecture,’ reflects Andrew Patterson. ‘He lifted himself out of our little country and heaved himself up on to the international stage. So designing the art museum has been about interpreting memories to create a physical beacon to guide others, a beacon that is unmistakably Len Lye.’

Talk about chasing rainbows, I’ve been chasing the shape of temple on and off for years and haven’t caught up yet. What I’m going to do is rest up for a bit. Maybe some else would care to give it a go?
Len Lye - Untitled Notebook (5419)