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A tourist destination is awash in an ocean of Resene blues

26 Jan 2021

The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony has long been one of northern Otago’s most successful tourism attractions. Operated by Tourism Waitaki, it hosts an upward of 80,000 visitors a year who are all keen to get an up close look at the world’s smallest penguin species.

However, since most of the penguins are out at sea during daylight hours, the decision was made to expand the facility and add a new daytime tour experience that would complement viewings of the Little Blue Penguins while giving daytime visitors more to enjoy and discover. Annabel Berry and Meghan Nockels of Design Federation were brought on board to direct the interior design for the project and come up with the spatial layout.

Since the centre was already feeling constrained for space, a new reception area and retail space were proposed, which included an entryway to the new day tour experience. The only day during the year that the penguin colony is closed is on Christmas Day, so development had to take place while the facility was operating. A staged approach to the build allowed construction of the new entrance to begin to the north of the building while business operations continued, ensuring minimal disruption to the visitors’ experience while the additions were being completed.

With the help of their client and Philippa Agnew, a Penguin Colony Scientist and key collaborator for the project, the design team came up with some cute and clever ideas for the new exhibit. “We designed a ‘nest box’ entrance so that visitors could get an idea of what it would be like walking into the penguins’ world,” says Annabel. Visitors enter a darkened tunnel painted in Resene Dark Side and are immersed in a surround sound of penguin calls and the gentle glow of lightboxes before moving into a theatre room. Here, an introductory video gives visitors an overview of the colony before walking into display areas including interactive activities, information panels, research overviews and statistics.

“One of the major developments by the colony was to create a penguin underpass by the harbour to assist penguins crossing the road at night. Within the activity room, we included a faux penguin underpass tunnel that leads children into a separate activity zone.” The area allows visitors of all ages a fun glimpse into the life of the penguin before they enter the outdoor experience, complete with bespoke furniture including built-in desks in Resene Half Grey Chateau and Resene Sea Fog, a wave table in Resene Hope, Resene Nauti and Resene Coast and an interactive activity zone in Resene Sea Crest and Resene Escape.

When it came to the colour selection, Annabel and Meghan looked to the plumage of the Little Blue Penguins and the ocean where the birds spend a majority of their lives for inspiration. “While it seemed obvious to be use blues, it was only when we dissected the plumage colours that we realised the broad palette lying within their feathers,” says Annabel. Working with high-grade close up photography of the plumage, they looked across the entire Resene collection using the free online Resene Colour Palette Generator to narrow down their options. Ultimately, their ‘short list’ was a broad range of 40 colours – which they further whittled down to determine the best hues that would work within the multipurpose facility.

“Reviewing the ocean colour palette was more problematic as while there is plenty of photography of Australasian waterways, we wanted to make sure our choices directly reflected the North Otago coastline. We also required a specific photograph related to the penguin colony underwater for one of the displays.” The hired a diving photographer who took shots into the coastline at the penguin colony as well as some stills of the underwater environment, which determined another palette of colours to choose from.

Rather than opting for white, the display walls were painted in Resene Hope, Resene Nauti and Resene Coast to create a playfully bold backdrop within the exhibition spaces. The information panels were matched to these hues to ensure continuity.

“The range of blues and greens throughout the space brings the visitors’ attention back to the shoreline and continually reminds them they are within the Little Blue Penguin colony. We believe that painting the display areas in bold colours as opposed to white has shown that colour can be both the backdrop and front runner in an exhibition space.”

Annabel and Megan used a combination of Resene Elephant walls and Resene Quarter Titania ceilings in the reception area to make a bold and professional impact on entry to the tourist facility. “We settled on Resene Elephant because of its blue green notes to bring a sense of the deep sea to the entrance,” explains Annabel. “Complemented with this is the teal blue and ply reception counter, timber flooring and David Trubridge lights – which all work seamlessly together.” Resene Half Kumutoto, a soft toned coastal blue, was used in the staff room while warm and neutral Resene Tea colours the research office, which creates a subtle visual distinction from the public spaces.

Walls in Resene Dark Side, a near black, greet visitors as they make their way through the tunnel experience. The deep hue allows the large lightboxes and strong audio backdrop of penguin calls to take centre stage.

True to the central palette of the project, Design Federation used deep navy Resene Dark Side to set the mood within the tunnel experience and theatre. They opted for Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen waterborne enamel to minimise the reflection of light from the lightboxes and movie screen.

Ocean-inspired Resene Coast, a dark and dusted navy, and Resene Escape, a pale cerulean blue, were used as backdrops for the watery imagery in this section of the exhibit. The ceiling is in Resene Quarter Titania.

Resene Sea Crest (left) and Resene Coast (right) were selected as key colours for the project using the Resene Colour Palette Generator and photographs of the penguins’ plumage and the Oamaru coastline. Ceiling in Resene Quarter Titania.

Children are invited to explore the activity area by entering through a faux ‘penguin underpass’. The surface needed to be hard wearing, so the design team chose Resene Lustacryl semi-gloss enamel tinted to Resene Half Grey Chateau to colour it. “Our concept with the ceiling was to show penguins swimming above, and to make the biggest impact, we painted it off white in Resene Quarter Titania with the penguins colour matched to Resene Coast. Left wall in Resene Escape and right wall in Resene Sea Crest.

The lower walls within the kids’ activity area were painted in Resene Coast to create a solid backdrop to bookcases and puzzle displays. A feature wall (at left) was topcoated in Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen tinted to Resene Sea Crest over top of basecoats in Resene FX Magnetic Magic. This allows the surface to work as both a chalkboard, which can be wiped clean with a damp cloth, as well as a magnetic surface capable of holding up strong magnets for another dimension of activity. The other walls (at back) are in Resene Escape and the ceiling is in Resene Quarter Titania.

Bespoke furniture is used for the key elements in the space. Design Federation designed a ‘wave table’ with local joiner which housed key environmental elements that the penguins interact with. It is painted in Resene Coast with drawer fronts in Resene Nauti and Resene Escape while a built-in desk provided a space for people of all ages to create and draw, and was painted in Resene Lustacryl semi-gloss waterborne enamel tinted Resene Quarter Titania to ensure longevity and match the ceiling colour used throughout the centre.

Informational signage was matched to the key Resene paint colours used in the exhibit: Resene Hope, Resene Escape and Resene Nauti. Walls in Resene Coast and ceiling in Resene Quarter Titania.

design Annabel Berry & Meghan Nockels, Design Federation

architectural specifier John McKenzie

build DeGeest Construction

painting A1 Decorators, Darryn Stewart Painting and Decorating

images Rachel Wybrow