WSP OPUS Nelson’s Suter Art Gallery. w WSP Opus

13 August 2018 Chloe Brigden

Upgrading one of New Zealand’s oldest galleries comes with plenty of challenges but the expertise of WSP Opus lead to a successful outcome for this grand old lady of Nelson.

Built in the late 19th Century, Nelson’s Suter Art Gallery has been a haven for art lovers for well over 100 years.

But time takes its toll on even the greatest buildings and in 2014 work started on a major redevelopment of this much-loved gallery.

WSP Opus was engaged by Nelson City Council on a two-year project that significantly expanded the galleries spaces while strengthening and protecting the original heritage building.

This saw WSP Opus deliver project management, fit-out management, and asset management planning throughout the redevelopment.  We also managed the detailed design, tendering and construction of the redevelopment, while the design was undertaken by a local architect with supporting specialists in New Zealand

This was a complex, large-scale project and a strong move for the Bishop Suter Trust and the Nelson City Council but one that would rebuild a valuable community asset for the benefit of the Nelson citizens, the wider community and international visitors. 

It wasn’t a job for the fainthearted, requiring seismic upgrading of the sensitive heritage building, and creating a new building fitted between another existing building, with a fixed budget, numerous stakeholders, and an extremely tight construction site incorporating protected trees and other heritage sites.

WSP Opus and its partners met these challenges with highly innovative responses and the building has been superbly finished inside and out.

The reconstruction of the Suter Art Gallery carefully blends the old and the new. Most of the prior buildings were replaced, except for the theatre and heritage listed original gallery, which have been fully restored and seismically strengthened. To retain the integrity of the original gallery floor, it was lifted as one piece before works were carried out on the foundations below. The redevelopment created many new gallery spaces complete with an education room, dedicated collection storage space, specialist exhibition lighting, and the dedicated air-conditioning to meet the high specification required to attract international exhibitions.

The project received widespread positive feedback on its formal reopening by the Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy in 2016. It continues to offer locals and visitors access to one of Nelson’s heritage icons and to the many forms of contemporary cultural expression.

 “Since the redevelopment, visitors to the Suter have increased dramatically”, says Gallery Director Julie Catchpole, “and the building is achieving everything and more than we hoped for.”


Hans-Peter Foreling, Senior Project Manager

"I am proud and privileged to have worked on this project that rebuilt a much-loved community asset for the benefit of the community and visitors. WSP Opus creates what matters for future generations and it is immensely pleasing to know that the Suter Art Gallery will be enjoyed for many years to come."