Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern walked into Scion's new $18 million three-storey building constructed from wood with her mouth open in shock.
"This is amazing," she said, as she whipped out her phone to take a photo of the wooden ceiling.
Ardern was the guest of honour at the official opening of Te Whare Nui o Tuteata in Rotorua, the Crown Forest Institute's new innovation hub.
Ardern opened the facility with Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Megan Woods, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta and about 500 guests.
Scion, a Crown Research Institute, has been the centre of New Zealand's forestry sector for more than 70 years.
The opening of Te Whare Nui o Tuteata is the next step in Scion's growth, as the organisation steps forward to support New Zealand in solving some of its most pressing issues through innovation in manufacturing, energy and sustainable land-use.
Ardern said she was incredibly impressed with what had been achieved.
"It is not often you see a building that showcases what is possible with timber. Traditionally in New Zealand we have built large commercial buildings out of steel and concrete but this showcases what can be done with trees in the right place with the right purpose.
"May we see more of this throughout our land."
She said despite the current climate, investment in forestry remained important.
"Our forestry industry is a really rich and strategic resource and we see it as playing such an important role in transforming our economy."
She said the new building came "hot on the heels" of a challenging and difficult year.
"Forestry has such a big part to play in overcoming one of our largest challenges as a country and that is climate change."
She thanked Scion for what it had done to date and what it had the potential to do in the future.
Scion chairwoman Dr Helen Anderson said that before the new building went up, an "imposing fence" surrounded the premises on the edges of the Whakarewarewa Forest that made it seem like something "secret" was going on.
"We are open. This is so exciting... Now the fence is gone and in its place this beautiful building is here."
Anderson said the opening was a big part of the institute's redevelopment and was the first time the site was open to everyone. She said it was hoped locals could better connect with the globally-recognised work that was going on.
Anderson said Scion would honour and respect the "gift" of the new building.
"This building is a showcase of Kiwi innovation."
She thanked those responsible for building it, saying it was "built on time and on budget".
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick acknowledged Anderson for taking the gates around Scion down with the opening of the new building.
"We used to think funny stuff went on here," she joked to the crowd.
Chadwick said the new building honoured the district's wood first policy and she hinted to Ardern any new Parliament building should be built with the same materials.
"This beautiful building has given us inspiration and hope that there is hope in the forestry industry."
Woods told the crowd she was impressed to hear the building stored about 418 tonnes of CO2-eqv for the life of the building.
She said it was important to note this was the same as the emissions from 160 return flights from Auckland to London.
Directing her speech towards the Whakarewarewa School and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Hurungaterangi pupils who were at the opening performing waiata, Woods said she wanted to see more Māori in the science and technology workforce.
"I want it to inspire you to have careers in this industry because that's where you belong."
The building name was gifted by mana whenua Ngā Hapū e Toru and acknowledges the mana of the tupuna Tuteata, from whom Ngā Hapū e Toru descend and the connection to the whenua, Tītokorangi.
Hapū representative Selwyn Insley said he looked forward to the partnership that had developed benefiting hapū members.
He said it was the hapū's challenge now to see more of its young ones entering careers in science and technology.
Scion chief executive Dr Julian Elder said Te Whare Nui o Tuteata was an example of timber technology and innovative design and construction that had been created with New Zealand designers, wood processors and construction firms.
"This building is a symbol of the powerful connections we foster between Scion, local iwi, government, industry and the local community."
Te Whare Nui o Tuteata showcases innovative technologies for large buildings in timber – that are climate-friendly, earthquake-resilient, fast and cost effective.