Our building

Te Papa is a landmark building in the heart of Wellington. It’s an engineering feat, rich with symbolism, and accessible to all.

On this page:
Engineering facts
Earthquake protection
Architecture and symbolism
Who owns the land Te Papa is on?
Waharoa (gateways)

Engineering facts

The museum:

  • took four years to complete
  • weighs 64,000 tonnes
  • has six floors
  • has 36,000 square metres of public floor space (the size of three rugby fields)
  • is made of 80,000 cubic metres of concrete
  • has enough reinforcing steel to stretch from Wellington to Sydney
  • sits on 150 base isolators to protect the building from earthquake movement
  • is clad in 14,500 grey and yellow stone panels
  • uses New Zealand–grown woods inside:
    • native – mataī (wall panels), tawa (handrails), rewarewa (lift linings)
    • exotic – macrocarpa (ceilings), eucalyptus (some floors).

Te Papa’s history

Earthquake protection

Our building sits close to a major fault line on soft, reclaimed land – how do we keep our taongataonga treasures and people safe?

To stabilise the site, 30-tonne weights were dropped on the ground 50,000 times – much to the dismay of nearby residents! Shock absorbers made of rubber and lead allow the building to move in earthquakes – up to half a metre in any direction.

  • In a major earthquake, Te Papa would be among the safer places in Wellington.
  • In a one-in-250-year earthquake, the building would be unharmed.
  • In a one-in-500-year earthquake, the building would need repairs.
  • In a one-in-2000-year earthquake (‘the big one’), the people and collections inside Te Papa would be safe, but the building might have to be demolished.

Quake Braker

Architecture and symbolism

Jasmax Architects won an international competition to design Te Papa. The principal architect was Ivan Mercep. Jasmax’s job was to create a building that reflected New Zealand’s history and evolving identity.

North: Māori face

The museum’s north face overlooks the harbour. Its bluff-like walls embrace nature – the sea, hills, and sky. Here, on Level 4, sits Te MaraeTe Marae Te Papa’s communal meeting place, named Rongomaraeroa. Rongomaraeroa welcomes visitors from New Zealand and around the world, and leads them on to Māori exhibition areas.

Te Marae

South: Pākehā (European) face

The museum’s south face greets the city with its vibrantly coloured panels. Its grid-like spaces reflect the patterns of European settlement.

The space between

A central wedge divides and unites Te Papa’s north and south faces – natural and urban, Māori and Pākehā. Here, the exhibition Treaty of Waitangi: Signs of a nation, Level 4, explores the Treaty of Waitangi – the nation’s founding document.

Treaty of Waitangi: Signs of a nation

Who owns the land Te Papa is on?

Our museum building sits on land owned by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. This comprises 2.3019 hectares.

Aerial view of Te Papa on Google Maps

We also lease:

  • 5,689 square metres from Wellington Waterfront Ltd on our northern and north-eastern boundaries, which includes plantings
  • two small blocks from Wellington City Council on our south-eastern corner – containing the grassed area at  the corner of Cable and Barnett Streets, and a small portion of our bus lane and car park.

Waharoa (gateways)

Woman looking at Waharoa, 2015. Photograph by Michael Hall. Te Papa

Contemporary waharoa, Te Marae, Level 4

This is where manuhiri (visitors) wait for the tangata whenua (home people) to welcome them in. The waharoa marks the threshold of their relationship – the meeting of cultures.

Our waharoa honours the various peoples who have settled in New Zealand, including:

  • the great Māori ancestor Kupe, and the many ocean-going people who followed him across the Pacific
  • Abel Tasman, James Cook, and other European navigators
  • other ethnic groups who subsequently arrived here.

Traditional waharoa in Wellington Foyer, Level 2

This traditional waharoawaharoa gateway was created for the Colonial Museum, Te Papa’s forerunner, in 1906.

Gateway to Aotearoa New Zealand

The idea of the waharoawaharoa gateway is particularly meaningful at Te Papa. Our entire museum is also a waharoa – a gateway to New Zealand’s natural and cultural heritage.