Wednesday, 5 September 2018

“The Olive Leaf Centre” - Design Inspired by Nature



An inspirational Gem to be discovered in the heart of Arrowtown


A unique architecturally designed multipurpose building “The Olive Leaf Centre” - a gift to Parish and Community, is poised to add another dimension to the culture and beauty of historic Arrowtown.


After nearly three years of design, planning and consultation an application has been lodged with the Queenstown Lakes District Council for consent to build a Parish and Community Centre on land adjacent to the historic St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Arrowtown.


The building has been designed to be a low-level structure to minimise its visual impact and to ensure that the church remains paramount on the site. Sunk into the ground, glimpsed through trees and shrubs, the building is viewed primarily as a series of stone walls reminiscent of the stone structures built by the early settlers. Even the roof hovering over it will be clad in stone so that the entire structure will be read as one.


Local parishioner and project architect Mr Fred Van Brandenburg, says “Our forefathers built to the best of their ability a church that was contemporary in their time. It would be appropriate to do the same in our time”. He states that there are many successful examples where historic and contemporary buildings can co-exist harmoniously as neighbours, for example, The Louvre in Paris: the I.M. Pei Pyramid extension, and the ultra-modern George Pompidou in Paris. They all create an interesting juxtaposition between old and new such that they enhance each other and do not confuse the onlookers with what is genuinely old and proudly new.


Mr Van Brandenburg states that: “In order to protect and enhance the primacy of the church, the roof needs to be low and flat to appear to float - to make the building as transparent as possible. The shape is such that it wants to move away from the Church to increase the distance between old and new, and from the interior, this curvilinear shape creates an image of a leaf that sheds water down the stem.” This fits in with his architectural ideology that curvilinear shapes are friendly forms like those found in nature. Hence his philosophy: “All forms in architecture should be inspired by forms found in nature.”


The building has become known as ‘The Olive Leaf’. But this is only noted if one sees it from above eye level like flying over it in a helicopter, or a drone. But in reality, this is not how one will see the building. Instead, it will just be seen as a low-level structure to be subservient to the Church building. However, from the interior the communal hall - the ceiling’s leaf-shape will be noted, hence its nickname: “The Olive Leaf”, a symbolic roof shape that sits suspended over a light-filled communal hall. A cool, peaceful, more intimate space lies below ground level accessed via a spiral stairway ending in an enclosed crypt-like space reminiscent of churches of old. Here one will see a wall of remembrance; a glass-walled internal garden fed with water flowing from the roof ‘stem’; built-in seating alcoves; brick, wrought ironwork and colourful symbolic mosaic imagery representing life’s journey


These are just some of the delightful features to be experienced leading down towards the core - the centre of the spiral. This space offers a peaceful, quiet, spiritual place for locals and visitors alike to sit, light a candle or just pause a while.
Incorporated into the design are also features highlighting the rich cultural heritage of the early settlers in the area.

Symbolic Maori motifs in mosaics are patterned into the stone walls and gold and autumn colours so evocative of Arrowtown are magnificently highlighted on the underside of the “Leaf” roof in the communal hall. A glass Koru motif embedded into the floor of the outdoor entrance courtyard allows natural light to filter through to the windowless sanctuary space below.


The centre is also designed to include spaces suitable for mentoring and support, providing opportunities to rekindle the work of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, a Catholic nun who lived and worked in Arrowtown in the 1890’s. Her quaint cottage on the site (part of her original school) attracts visitors and pilgrims from around the world on a daily basis. 


The Olive Leaf Centre is intended to form an integral part of an overall site complex and will ensure the preservation and maintenance of both the historic Mary MacKillop Cottage and St Patrick’s Church.


The inspiration for the Olive Leaf Centre came from a group of parishioners with a vision to build a place for parish gatherings and for the wider community to enjoy. Their aim was not simply to build a “Church Hallbut rather to create a work of exceptional beauty, timeless elegance and functionality. This design has it all. Like a Koru revealed by a skilled carver from within the Pounamu - a Taonga of our time.


Bishop Michael Dooley the newly ordained Bishop of the Dunedin Catholic Diocese, in a letter of endorsement, stated: “Throughout the ages, the Church has encouraged artists and builders in creating spaces that raise our spirits to God and also provide a practical benefit to the wider community. This project offers us an opportunity to create a beautiful space for prayer and reflection and a welcoming gathering space for social cohesion in our community” He continues: “This is an ambitious undertaking but the history of the Church includes many people who through vision and perseverance created beautiful buildings of which we are the beneficiaries today”.


The Centre will be administered by ‘The Olive Leaf Centre Trust’ an independent charitable body. The Trust is optimistic that it will be able to fund the project through grants and donations including those from patrons of the arts. This will be in a similar vein to the enabling of the completion of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral and raising funds for the Hundertwasser Art Centre project in Whangarei.


Already the project has created considerable national and international interest and offers of support. The Trust has reaffirmed its commitment to delay seeking funding until Resource Consent has been obtained.

The Trust says that work on the project to date has been totally pro bono and gratefully acknowledges the generosity of spirit this project has inspired.

For further information please contact:



Mr Colin Bellett: Trust Chair - “Olive Leaf Centre Trust”. Email: macbellett@gmail.com Ph: +64 27 6109109 

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