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Australian architect Richard Francis-Jones explains the importance of using local materials to build Auckland Art Gallery, which was crowned World Building of the Year at World Architecture Festival in Singapore earlier this month.

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki in New Zealand, which was designed by Frances-Jones Morehen Thorp together with New Zealand studio Archimedia, is an extension and refurbishment of an existing gallery.

"It's a turn-of-the-century building, it kind of embodies a colonial attitude to a European settlement," says Francis-Jones of the original gallery.

"This new project gave us an opportunity to rethink that, to recast it in current values, to create a bi-cultural gallery that can have a much more holistic relationship to New Zealand society."

The extension provides the gallery with a new entrance, atrium and gallery space, areas that are covered by large wooden canopies made from the indigenous kauri tree.

Francis-Jones says that it was very important for the design team to create a building that related to its local surroundings.

"One of the great challenges we face as architects in this age is that our materials and our systems are sourced from all over the world," he says. "But we were seeking to make a building that was really embedded in this place, in this culture."

He continues: "To create these canopies we wanted to use a material that was very precious and meaningful to New Zealand, so we used natural kauri. It's got to be one of the most beautiful timbers you've ever seen in your life and it's a timber of great significance and meaning to Maori culture."

"But, of course, it's a protected species, so we had to source it from fallen kauri or recycled kauri. We had to use it very sparingly."

The large glass walls of the building are designed to allow clear views outside to the surrounding landscape.

"The building, in a sense, creates a connection between the natural landscape and the city," says Francis-Jones.

"Our effort was to strive to make a building that was transparent in a way, to create a building that was more open, inclusive and connected with the landscape. It is a more open interpretation of New Zealand's future."

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