The Salmon Tale

By Graham Hepburn.

When Nigel Lamb was commissioned to design a building for a salmon-based tourism venture in Rakaia, he struck upon the idea of a large steel fish.
Not only would it be an eye-catching feature of the Mid Canterbury town, but it also referenced a local landmark, the Big Salmon, a large, leaping fibreglass fish on a pole that was erected to promote the area’s salmon fishing.
While Nigel was sure this was the way to go, he wasn’t certain he could sell the idea to his clients.
 “The very idea of building a large steel fish in a small paddock in Rakaia, the northern entry to Mid Canterbury seemed a difficult proposition to pitch to my clients”, he recalls.
So, he came up with a cunning plan to make sure his idea wouldn’t be the one that got away.

He worked through the brief for the project and sketched up a typical “Kiwi farm shed-like” tourist development that met the town planning requirements but was hardly inspirational.

On the day of the presentation, Nigel pinned up these drawings but also stuck in one corner a small freehand sketch plan and elevation of his steel fish idea.

The presentation went smoothly enough and at one point Nigel excused himself from the room, supposedly to get some more materials. Really, he wanted to give his clients, Pat Turton and Richard Dudley, a chance to look at and discuss the steel fish idea while he was out of the room.
The pair took the bait and when Nigel returned, Pat said, “This building is all right but we really want you to do this idea,” as he pointed at the fish sketch.

Having sold the idea, Nigel now had the challenge of making the salmon-shaped building a reality.But first and foremost, his brief was to make the building dramatic and eye-catching to lure travellers from State Highway 1. And he also had to keep a firm hand on practicalities such as incorporating a restaurant, visitor centre and souvenir shop all under one roof.

It didn’t hurt that the project was a little controversial as that created a buzz about the new development. And while it didn’t conform to the town planning guidelines for the site, the Ashburton District Council was very supportive.

“I told my clients that we could probably expect a 50 per cent positive, 50 per cent negative response to the building but at least it would get noticed,” says Nigel. “But the response has been hugely positive, especially from the town of Rakaia.”

When Nigel began sketching how his abstracted salmon shape would work architecturally, he became excited about the dramatic forms that began to emerge on his drawing board.

Nigel says the aerial aspect of buildings has always fascinated him and in the age of Google Earth, with its close-up satellite images, he’s looking forward to the day he can tap into a computer, zoom in on Salmon Tales Rakaia and see his “little mark on the world”.

The steel roof is divided into six main planes supported by three asymmetrical portal frames to form the curved body of the fish. Two more roof planes form the tail and flick up from the rear to create a sheltered entranceway. The roof also sweeps up at the mouth end and is detailed to form small fins off either side of the body of the fish and these also shelter doors.

“I was trying to create a cubist type of form not a cliched representation of a salmon,” says Nigel. “It was essential that the wall heights were different to get that movement in the roof and also changing the overhangs so they veer down to the ground in some places and up high in others.”

Computer modeling was used to test and refine the geometry of the roof. Steel roofing was an early and logical choice because it resembled the shiny surface of a salmon.

Nigel used ZINCALUME® steel for roof and wall cladding, setting it horizontally on the walls through the body but at different angles at the tail and mouth ends of the building to create a sense of movement that hints the steel salmon might leap into the nearby Rakaia River. Charcoal ply is used in contrast to the ZINCALUME® to highlight the fish shape of the building. Outside the mouth end of Salmon Tales, which houses a 70-seat restaurant, there is a deck that seats a further 45 people and overlooks a salmon pond. Further inside is the Southern Gateway Visitor Centre and displays of souvenirs and arts and crafts for sale.

Nigel’s design hooked his clients and since it had been up and running, Salmon Tales’ unique premises have been reeling in the customers. 

Nigel Lamb

After training and working in architecture and design in Melbourne, where he lived for 12 years, Nigel returned to New Zealand in 2002. His company, Architectura - Art of Building, has worked on a variety of commercial and residential projects, always with the aim of doing something innovative. Nigel says, “I design buildings that have some drama and also a sense of fun. I guess they have to possess a full personality. I like using materials honestly and expressively.  I dislike the phrase and mindset ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’.”

Client: Salmon Tales Rakaia.
Telephone 03 303 5450.    

Designer: Nigel Lamb,
Architectura – Art of Building.
Telephone 03 307 8338.
Mobile: 021 176 0925.

Builder:Mark Wilson.
Bradford Building, Ashburton.
Telephone 03 308 9039.

Salmon Tales won a gold award in 2007 in the Master Builders regional Commercial and Retail sector.
It was also category winner in Ashburton for the Master Builders Commercial Gold Award.

Structural Steel:
North End Engineering.
Telephone 03 308 8155.

Roofing Supplier:
Steel & Tube Roofing Products.
Telephone: 03 377 0994.

Installed By: Newfield Roofing.
Telephone 03 366 9645.
Roofing Profile :
Cladding Profile:
Custom Orb Corrugate ZINCALUME ®

Restaurant Furniture: Harrows.
Telephone: 0800 142 233.