Editorial: Te Papa North an idea whose time has come

Yesterday's earthquakes must spur keepers of our national collections to build a second museum in Auckland, and soon

Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. Photo / Mark Mitchell

When the notion of housing part of Te Papa's collection on the Auckland waterfront was put forward a few years ago, it was well received. Nothing happened, however, to progress it past the status of a good idea.

Not, that is, until the 6.5 magnitude earthquake that hit Wellington on July 21, and yesterday's major jolts. These upheavals and the aftershocks have persuaded the board of Te Papa to reduce the risk to the National Collections by seeking another location for some of them.

They should also be the catalyst for the advancement of the concept of Te Papa North.

There are any number of good reasons for this. The first is the location of Te Papa on reclaimed land next to one of the world's most active faultlines.

The national museum's main building, opened in 1998, has supports made from steel, lead and rubber that are designed to slow down the effect of an earthquake.

This provides some comfort, and the Te Papa board's immediate concern is a secondary building just a kilometre away that serves as a scientific research facility and storage area.

It has been deemed a seismic risk, prompting the search for an alternative location for some of the archived collection.

The earthquakes should, however, trigger more wide-ranging concern.

Te Papa's location and the fact that it either displays or stores all the National Collections has always been a source of worry purely from the eggs-in-one-basket perspective.

It makes sense to safely locate some of the nation's treasures elsewhere. Auckland, if only because of the size of its population, is the logical candidate.

And the logical site for Te Papa North is the Wynyard Quarter. A signature public building for its headland park has long been envisaged.

Te Papa's chief executive, Michael Houlihan, who was involved in the original Te Papa North proposal, said it was not connected to the current considerations for moving parts of the collections out of the capital.

But if not, why not?

The types of work to be moved have not been decided, but Te Papa says the new location will need to increase public access to the collections, create educational experiences and meet researchers' needs.

A new structure at Wynyard Point that catered for this, and also drew exhibitions sourced internationally and from other New Zealand galleries and museums, would seem the ideal solution.

The timing is not perfect from one standpoint.

The Tank Farm may not be moved until 2019 and temporary storage would have to be found for some of Te Papa's treasures.

But six years is also about the right time to design and build the 24,000sq m structure on four floors proposed by Te Papa North's advocates.

This would also ensure that far more of the country's treasures were on display. Te Papa can show only a small proportion of these.

Similarly, the use of space at Wynyard Point could be used to free up room at the likes of the Auckland Art Gallery.

Te Papa deserves credit for taking the first step in the interests of ensuring the safety of the National Collections.

The next is to connect the dots and recognise that Te Papa North most obviously fits the bill for an "iconic" building at Wynyard Point.

It is an idea whose time has surely come.

- NZ Herald

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