Te Papa is a bi-cultural institution in its organisational structure, exhibitions concept and its architecture. The final design brief centred on the Exhibitions Concept Plan developed by specialist exhibition designers, which expressed bi-cultural relationships through distinctive land settlement patterns of Aotearoa New Zealand. Thus, the Tangata Whenua Maori areas are facing North and the openness of the harbour, while the Tangata Tiriti Settler areas are aligned to the gridded street pattern of the early European settlers.
The design supports a radical exhibitions conceptual plan that combines the separate departmental collections into a unified collection, to soften the boundaries between contemporary art, history, historic art and the natural environment departments. This allows for a more representative and interpretive range of exhibits for the visitor.
Visitors are orientated through the location and scale of the “mighty wall” stretching diagonally through the building from the entry to the harbour edge, as well as from the entry/orientation lobby with its outlook to the harbour and views to all gallery levels. The visitor arrives at and returns to these elements repeatedly as they journey through the various levels and galleries. The orientation lobby also gives access to the museums curatorial and administrative offices, auditorium, restaurants and conference facilities.
The building is designed not only to survive major earthquakes and the climatic extremes of its location, but also to accommodate the inevitable advances in technology, and the changing requirements of exhibition installations and the revenue producing facilities and attractions, so as to always maintain visitor satisfaction.
- 1999 NZIA – Resene Northern Regional Award for Architecture – Community and Cultural
- 1999 DuPont Antron Design Award