As a CITY, Auckland has its fair share of detractors, yet, contradicting the national stereotype suggesting a queue of knockers is lining up at the Bombay Hills, Aucklanders themselves can be some of the harshest critics. In a city where mentioning public transport, Hobson Street's architecture, or escalating house prices is tantamount to declaring an open season on optimism, there are, without falling prey to vainglory, some things of which to be proud. Steadfast upon its hilltop site, Auckland's museum is one such thing.
The Auckland War Memorial Museum, or simply the museum to most, has always been one of Auckland's most loved attractions. In 1995, to arrest the Beaux Arts structure's declining condition, a landmark five-year restoration project was undertaken. At that time, new building services were introduced, and 9000m2 of exhibit space was replaced, says Noel Lane, the architect who undertook the design work.
"The refurbishment created a contemporary museum space that co-existed with the historic architectural elements without overly impacting on them," says Lane. "Original materials were translated into contemporary form concrete replaced the original Portland stone and bronze display cases made way for steel. The new gallery, exhibition spaces and museum furniture were designed to release the interior of the building from generations of pragmatic change, and to re-focus attention on the artefacts and cultural objects."
In 2002, Stage II the Grand Atrium Project commenced, with Lane again at the helm. A natural progression from Stage I, this development comprises two basement levels, a ground floor, and four above-ground levels. Seven stories in all, crowned with an undulating roof of glass and copper, Stage II turned an 1800m² courtyard full of huts and scrub into a 9500m2 world-class facility. However, before we reach this point some history, in a nutshell.
In its first incarnation, some 154 years ago, the museum was but a humble two bedroom cottage. During the late 19th-century continual growth meant a number of relocations were necessary, but it wasn't until 1918, with the end of World War One and a need to commemorate the war dead, that the decision was made to purpose-build a museum.
Architectural firm Grierson, Aimer and Draffin won the competition to design the new building, which was eventually completed in 1929. Following World War Two, expansion was again necessary. Malcolm Draffin, one of the original architects, drew up the plans for this extension, which added two thirds more floor area, and improved the balance of storage and laboratory space.
Over the decades, however, the fabric of the building deteriorated until the eventual completion of the Stage I project in 1999. In turn, this brings us back to the present day, and the Grand Atrium project.