Te Papa Extension
Wellington Waterfront
Waitangi Precinct Design Competition

1. Urban Strategy:  a simplifying approach  

Our proposal aims to weave together the loose fragments of the Waitangi Precinct by the addition of just a few simple and balanced gestures. Our analysis of the context has led us to purposely avoid too many different additions to the site, focusing instead on a dynamic of clear lines, stretching in different directions between two volumes. The built surroundings of Waitangi Park as well as Te Papa are heterogeneous in terms of volume, height and style, program and occupation. Thus the existing city-edge towards Waitangi Park contains residences and serviced apartments, shopping and business facilities with a suburban appearance. Te Papa works as a cultural attractor and is connected to the inner city, but unfortunately does not provide an attractive connection to the water front. Problematically, it presents the future Waitangi Park with a massive back elevation, where all loading and servicing of the museum and a significant amount of traffic take place. Also to be taken into the equation is the positioning of at least two main streets that are directed towards the waterfront, allowing for strong connections between the city and the harbour front area with Waitangi Park as a mediator in between. At the moment these streets are not connected to the waterfront.  

Waitangi Park will become the main hinge of the redeveloped Precinct with the ability to connect these diverse and disconnected parts of the surroundings. Our strategy consists of continuing and enhancing the most powerful element of the park-concept, namely the intensively programmed belt that frames the green heart of the park. This strip operates in different ways at once: on one side it articulates a physical boundary against the bustling city to protect the calmness of the waterfront. On the other side it forms an attractive threshold blurring the border between park and city allowing for continuous connectivity and easy access. Our proposal pivots on the selection of two sites, concentrating all the asked-for developments at opposite ends of this strip, bookending Waitangi Park. These sites maintain strong visual and programmatic relationships with the park itself and also are part of a chain of strong volumes along the harbour edge: Te Papa, Chaffers Dock, OPT and the Freyberg Pool Building, which gradually give way to less programmed areas with a bigger degree of landscaping.  

We have chosen to depart from the brief and to accommodate sites 1, 2 and 3 in one compact building, rather than three, in area 1. As an alternative to the strategy of deploying more and smaller volumes to soften the controversial existing large volumes, we propose to collect the given programs in a medium-sized building close to the harbour edge, that on closer inspection breaks down into a two volumes with a light, residential slab on top. For area 2 we propose a museum extension combined with an art gallery (site 4) as a cultural marker for the whole site, giving Te Papa a new, harbour-orientated front. Thus we concentrate functions and volumes far more strongly than suggested since we feel that the end quality that can be achieved of both buildings and open spaces will be far higher this way. The proposed compactness of program and volume allows for minimized interference with the main connections between city, park and coast (1) but also generates the necessary iconographic strength to frame Waitangi Park and underline its identity as a strong cultural and social actor (2).  

2. A Common design model: knotting strategy

The proposed urban approach, with its concentration of developments in two new interventions that frame the park and create new volumes, results also in more clearly defined and generous public spaces. This same strategy is also used for the buildings themselves: we have defined moments of strong architectural and spatial dynamics which are tied up with specific programs. These distinct building elements are intertwined and interwoven with each other, using spatial models based on knot geometry. Both building volumes knot and knit together different programs, characters and atmospheres: sports, food and dwelling in the hybrid building; and diverse art forms, and cultural backgrounds in the museum extension. The continuous loop of the knot allows for an integral approach, fusing opposing parts into one entity and with one point of overlay. Since both buildings frame Waitangi Park they belong to one conceptual family which is conveyed by their common geometrical code, the knot.  

3. The Harbour Front Building

This building consists of a fusion of three different structures (site 1 – 3) into one volume. This concentration of activities results in more space for the park, and enhanced connectivity and view lines. In our view, three fragmented volumes would disturb the connections between Waitangi Park and the marina; it would also be near-impossible to secure attractive positions for all three. We therefore propose a more compact solution that incorporates some measure of the public space that the three-block strategy would entail inside its perimeters. The Harbour Front knot articulates a strong anchor for this side of Waitangi Park, the square in front of Chaffer’s Dock and the beginning of the Overseas Passenger Terminal. It will be part of a chain of strong buildings along the coastline creating two precise terraces: one oriented towards the square, the other one oriented towards the sea. These terraces will articulate points of liveliness and attraction to ensure the future attraction of the harbour edge. The three different ranges of program spiral upwards. In one part we situate a system of connected plateaus of restaurants starting at grade with a creative café and a take away restaurant directed to the square, followed by a family-restaurant on the first floors with a view over Waitangi park and the coastline, and finally completed by a high class seafood-restaurant on the second floor with a view to the sea, the marina and the coastline. In the second part, but interwoven with these plateaus, is situated a strip of sportive leisure programs, such as an outlet for hiring recreational equipment at grade directed towards Waitangi Park, a health club/spa on the first floor with a view onto the sea and an indoor sports club on the second floor containing a 12m high climbing wall overlooking the square and – again – the park. A single level of serviced apartments (program of site 3) is placed on top of the three floors containing the diverse programs. It roofs the two terraces underneath. Instead of being placed between Chaffer’s Dock and its extension facing the square this proposed position allows for great 360 degree views over the whole area while being in relative calmness and distance to the lively square and harbour edge. The apartment users may additionally benefit from the nearness of the sports and dining facilities. This rich and complex interlocking of programs and experiences of the Harbour Front building is based on the same knot-shape that forms the conceptual basis for the museum extension.  

4. The museum: Uplifting effect

Overall concept: The museum extension frames Waitangi Park towards its west-side and provides a second, harbour-related front for Te Papa. Its dynamic, uplifted outlines, which draw the eye to the corners and to the diagonal gestures implicated in the volume, provide light relief to the site, which is dominated by large-scale, sometimes stern and sober buildings dating from the days when the site was primarily active as harbour and docking area. The new addition has been designed to manifest itself with the necessary forcefulness to have a real effect as a cultural marker in relation to the surroundings and to help to connect Wellington’s upcoming waterfront area with the city itself. Three strong axes form the main boundaries for the new volume: the extension of the main axis of Te Papa, together with the northern boundary of Waitangi Park (also articulated through Chaffer’s Dock), defines the extension of the new building at its northern perimeter. The strong urban edge created by Te Papa and the continuation of the boulevard of Waitangi Park define its southern edge. An open and inviting gesture is to be made towards the green heart of Waitangi Park by the two outstretched wings, which, as they cantilever upwards, provide an open, but sheltered public space at ground level, and break up the wall-like appearance of the main building behind.  

Program and aims: The two main goals at the basis of our museum-extension of Te Papa are: to acknowledge and give place to the diversity of the cultural backgrounds informing the museum and to create an open, contemporary, multi-directional environment which allows for cross-views and interactions on many levels. For this reason each of the two wings of the extension is dedicated to exhibiting contemporary art from various cultural backgrounds. The two-wing layout is not designed to separate art on the basis of its origins, but rather to interweave and generate bicultural relationships. Thus, in opposition to a traditional gallery-organization we propose fluent sequences of zigzagging spaces with large communicative zones in between, which can double up to exhibit unusually large works. Besides having contemplative areas for the face-to-face experience of the exhibited art-pieces these plateaus allow visitors to perceive sculptures and paintings from different heights, angles and positions and in different relations to each other. In this way the richness and diversity of contemporary New Zealand art is contained in one unifying body, that can cope with big scale sculptural works and huge paintings (such as Colin MacCahon’s Gate III, 1970) as well as objects requiring a more intimate space.  

The site of the museum extension takes in aspects of the harbour, the park and the city; internally, the confrontation of interior spaces with their outdoor counterparts informs the composition of the plateaus. The knot that is articulated through a cascade of ramps provides a continuous intertwining and integrating not only of different cultures but also of the urban and natural environment. In this way, the conceptual model for the extension is based on a complex and layered reading of the dualities and fusions found in the cultural background of the museum and in the place itself.  

The extension serves art and people. A museum can generate extraordinary experiences.  Visiting a museum can be an uplifting, spiritual, thought-provoking, social, or educational experience. This is to a large extent due to the architecture providing the right backdrop for the art; the first function of the architecture is to accommodate and present the works on display. But even when a particular show might not interest a particular visitor, they might still be fascinated and satisfied by their experience of the museum. And this is what we are after; to construct a museum space that works with or without art, with or without people, and therefore works for many different forms of art and people… Walking up and down the slowly spiralling ramps, visitors will find that they themselves are perhaps as much part of the cultural event as the exhibited pieces. In addition to their main function to exhibit art the created plateaus create distinctive stage-like space for vernissages, small concerts, etc. Besides being a shell, the museum extension will be an attractor and even more a new hinge or pivotal point for the cultural life of Wellington’s evolving society. Programmatically, we have chosen to add a gallery, rather than the hostel option, to the extension to keep the focus on its future as new cultural attractor.  

Connection with Te Papa:  Instead of a bridge we propose a ground-level, covered connection, using the local topology of the landscaped hill, to keep open sightline from Tory Street


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