He Tohu Document Room, Wellington

Designed by: Studio Pacific Architecture
For client: New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs Floor area: 120.00 M² Year of completion: 2017
Nominated for: Best Craftsmanship

He Tohu Exhibition 1
© Andy Spain

Document Room Interior

About the Project

The brief for He Tohu asked to display, preserve and interpret Aotearoa New Zealand’s most precious and delicate documents. The balancing of achieving the technical requirements while making the documents readily accessible for all, and creating a meaningful and respectful place was always going to be crucial. The documents in the exhibition: 1835 He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni – Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand; 1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi – Treaty of Waitangi; and 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition – Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine are iconic constitutional documents and priceless national treasures. He Tohu aims to bring them alive for future generations and enhance learning opportunities about the historical, constitutional and cultural significance of the documents for young New Zealanders. There is something very powerful about being able to personally and intimately inspect these handwritten documents which have so profoundly shaped, and continue to shape the history of a nation. All three documents are highly sensitive to light, humidity and temperature. Any one of these aspects could cause irreparable damage however putting the documents away in the dark was not an option. They had to be protected while being accessible, they had to be legible, and they had to live in a beautiful space - a place where all New Zealanders can engage and reflect on the taonga’s (treasures) multiple narratives and meanings.

What’s unique about it

The documents’ significance allowed a multi-layered narrative approach that followed the negotiation between the apparent conflicting briefs of protection and engagement. The document room is conceived from the idea of waka huia, a traditional timber treasure box sharing and protecting our taonga. Built from windfall sourced native rimu timber enabled the use of contemporary CNC routing and traditional hand adzing carving methodologies. New Zealand culture is shaped by interactions between people who have negotiated and debated in the past. Experience of welcome, approach, entering, and engagement with the taonga reflect these interactions and are commemorated within several design features: the room's position presents a challenge to the existing structure; wave interference patterns represent the meeting of cultures and debate of ideas; the pounamu strip references he tatau pounamu (symbol of reconciliation); and the curvilinear interior space notionally carved out by the documents themselves has been done to bring people into close, personal engagement with the documents. The many technical requirements including controls/provisions for security, fire, lighting, temperature and humidity were balanced with a space allowing people intimate engagement with the taonga. Natural light is removed by light lock entries. Light-washed walls provide wayfinding, draw out the warmth of the timber and offset cooler temperature case lighting. Case lighting requires user switching and is time controlled.

He Tohu Exhibition 3
© Andy Spain

Document Room Entrance

He Tohu Exhibition 4
© Andy Spain

Document Room Entrance

He Tohu Exhibition 2
© Andy Spain

Document Room Exterior

He Tohu Exhibition 7
© Andy Spain

1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition – Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine

He Tohu Exhibition 6
© Andy Spain

1835 He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni – Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand

He Tohu Exhibition 5
© Andy Spain

1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi – Treaty of Waitangi

He Tohu Exhibition 9
© Andy Spain

1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi – Treaty of Waitangi

He Tohu Exhibition 10
© Andy Spain

Document Room Exterior Detail

He Tohu Exhibition 8
© Andy Spain

Document Room Interior Seat

General background introduction to the exhibition (that the document room is central to)

Credits:
Studio Pacific Architecture

Story Inc

eCubed

Dunning Thornton Consultants

Holmes Fire

Marshall Day Acoustics

Fletcher Construction – Fletcher Interiors

Bernard Makoare

Cliff Whiting

Greenmount Espies

Glasbau-Hahn

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