Te Ao Mārama South Atrium, Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Te Ao Mārama, the realm of Being and Light, reconceptualises the museum as a whole, creating a journey from darkness to enlightenment.

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Project Details

Client Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
Sector Culture & Community
Location Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Discipline Architecture, Interior Design
Status Completed 2020
Size 7,285 sqm
Design Collaborator(s) Jasmax with FJMT and designTRIBE
Heritage Architects Salmond Reed Architects
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Deepening visitor engagement with the building and its collections

Working within the era-spanning architecture of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, Te Ao Mārama elevates the cultural dignity of the manuhiri (visitor) experience. A bicultural welcome embeds mana whenua narratives and tikanga in the architecture and artwork. The vision was for a dramatic transformation of the southern entry which welcomes 75% of the museum’s visitors.

The new spaces in Te Ao Mārama are relevant to the diverse population the museum serves, and accommodate a wide variety of museum events. Manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga (respect and care) for manuhiri, taonga (artefacts), and the building were central to the design. Extensive consultation ensured cultural protocols were followed, museum operations were enhanced, and the building’s detailed heritage was respected.

Redefining the museum experience as ‘a space for decolonisation to begin’

(Albert Refiti, Architecture NZ, May/June 21)

Te Ao Mārama establishes an international precedent for bicultural approaches to public museum design. Architecture, artwork, interior design and exhibition content combine to reflect mana whenua and Pacific cultural narratives. Pivotal in the design was the release of the suspended tanoa bowl which is now fully resplendent within the atrium (previously partially covered by the temporary exhibition space). New timber-lined boulevards connect Te Ao Mārama to He Taonga Māori (the Māori Court) guiding visitors and revealing new galleries.

Existing galleries have been upgraded with infrastructure concealed within new raised floors and elegant ceiling-mounted services shields which reveal previously obscured heritage features and spatial volumes. Integrated signage designed by Jasmax’s Brand Design team also directs visitors throughout. The result is a unifying experience which transcends the museum’s history, connecting prior development stages into a holistic experience.

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Reconceiving tradition and heritage materials for the modern day

Materials were assessed for their robustness and ability to patina over the years. Selections such as bronze joinery, terrazzo flooring, Tawa and Tasmanian Blackwood veneers pay homage to the Museum’s original materials as well as more recent additions like the Fijian Kauri clad tanoa bowl dating from 2006. 

Heritage materials such as plaster mouldings have been entirely reconceived to form fluid three-dimensional ceiling features concealing services and structural transitions. Through the boulevards, brass inlays and lighting provide a rhythmic measurement system recording the passage of time between past and present.

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Integrating tikanga within the visitor experience

The atrium serves multiple functions – formal and informal welcome, education, and other assorted events and community activities. Devices to enable concurrent activities and events, such as screening elements, lighting and acoustic treatments are elevated into iconic architectural motifs. The glowing underside of the tanoa bowl references pacific navigation and radial geometries, with the design centering manuhiri within Te Ao Mārama, orientating them to their place in Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa, and the South Pacific.

Waiting spaces, like eddies, flow off the boulevards with built-in seating at new lift lobbies. The ceremonial gateway into the south atrium is demarcated by the cultural artwork of Te Tatau Kaitiaki by Graham Tipene (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Haua) and the twin Wahi Whakanoa by Chris Bailey (Ngati Paoa) which nest into the architectural niches adjacent to the exits allowing for the removal of tapu on departure.

“This significant landmark project is the result of a thoughtful unlayering of past interventions and an addition of interstitial elements, underpinned with a strong bicultural narrative… this exceptional project brings together the successive eras of the building holistically while providing a place of welcome, gathering and belonging for the wider community.”

Interior Awards, Judges Citation 2021

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Integrated Cultural Artworks

'Te Tatau Katiaki' Digital Carving Graham Tipene (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Haua)
‘Wāhi Whakanoa’ Sculptures Hine-pū-te-hue and Rongomātāne Chris Bailey (Ngāti Paoa, Ngāti Hako, Ngāti Porou, Te Aupouri)
‘Manulua’ Sculptures Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi


2023 AIA Awards - Public Architecture - International Chapter Commendation
2022 WAF: INSIDE Awards - Public Buildings
2021 NZIA National Awards - Heritage
2021 NZIA National Awards - Public Architecture
2021 NZIA Local Awards - Heritage
2021 NZIA Local Awards - Public Architecture
2021 Interior Awards - Civic
2021 Interior Awards - Supreme Award
2021 Best Awards - Public and Institutional Spaces - Gold