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Team effort behind new control tower

Tom O'Leary Nov 11
Team effort behind new control tower
The tower incorporates elements of the geometric roofline used in the terminal building.

When a storm prevented architects Jon Fraser and Marcellus Lilley from collecting an NZIA Public Architecture award, the irony wasn’t lost on them.

Their award recognised the design for Nelson airport’s new control tower, however the architects were stuck in Wellington, with all flights grounded.

Despite the hiccup, Jon and Marcellus, from Wellington-based Studio Pacific Architecture, say the win was a gratifying conclusion to a project distinguished by excellent communication and collaborative teamwork.

As project lead and project architect respectively, Marcellus and Jon were responsible for the initial concept design developed in consultation with Air-ways New Zealand and the wider SPA design team.

The project was then put out as a design/build tender, with the contract going to Nelson’s Gibbons Construction.

The initial design responded to a highly technical brief specifying sightlines and visibility, flight path entries and exits, and aircraft movement between runway and terminal.

The tower also needed to fit within the wider redesign of Nelson’s airport terminal, also delivered by Studio Pacific Architecture.

“Previously, the control tower was sited on top of the terminal building,” explains Marcellus.

“The new tower had to work both as a stand-alone structure and as part of an integrated design strategy for the airport as a whole.”

To achieve this, the tower – a sculptural, angled ‘chalice’ form in pre-cast concrete – incorporated elements of the geometric chevron roofline used in the terminal building.

A further aesthetic link can be seen in the glass-enclosed stairwell and control cab of the tower, which echo the highly glazed, transparent façade of the terminal.

“We were able to take what is effectively a piece of infrastructure, and come up with a more poetic and coherent architectural solution,” explains Jon.

Both men speak highly of the partnership with Gibbons Construction, whose local knowledge was especially beneficial when it came to resourcing the project and creating efficiencies during construction.

“Gibbons are really proactive contractors,” says Marcellus.

“Their chief operating officer Shane Trench and Project Manager Matt Ellery ensured that the build was completed to the highest possible standard.”

Gibbons also supplied all of the pre-cast concrete used in the tower from their local Nelson plant.

As there was a lot of affection amongst locals for the former terminal and tower, serious thought was given to whether the facility could be refurbished.

When this was deemed unfeasible, it felt doubly important that whatever replaced it should be care-fully considered.

Both Jon and Marcellus are gratified by the result.

“The tower and the terminal create a great first impression as you fl y in,” says Jon.

“It resets something that was more domestic in scale in a very confident way.”

As developments in remote technology may in future render manned airport control towers obsolete, Nelson’s tower has a further significance.

In close competition with Wellington’s control tower, (also designed by Studio Pacific Architecture in collaboration with Napier-based Paris Magdalinos Architects) Nelson’s new tower may be the last to be built in New Zealand.

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