Our building 

Te Papa Building

Te Papa is a landmark building in the heart of Wellington, with spectacular views of the harbour.

Discover facts about the building’s design and architecture. Also find out about popular features – The Marae, waharoa (gateways), entrance boulders, and large ball inside the entrance.

Design facts
Who owns the land Te Papa is on?
Earthquake protection
Architecture and symbolism
The Marae – Rongomaraeroa
Waharoa (gateways)
Entrance boulders
Ball inside the entrance
Latitude and longitude of Te Papa

Design facts

Building Te Papa was an engineering feat. The Museum:

  • took 4 years to complete
  • weighs 64,000 tonnes
  • has 36,000 square metres of public floor space (the size of three rugby fields)
  • includes 80,000 cubic metres of concrete
  • has enough reinforcing steel to stretch from Wellington to Sydney
  • sits on 150 shock absorbers to protect the building from earthquake movement
  • is clad in 14,500 grey and yellow stone panels
  • uses New Zealand-grown woods inside: mataī (wall panels), tawa (handrails), rewarewa (lift lining), macrocarpa (ceilings), Eucalyptus pilularis (some floors).

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Who owns the land Te Papa is on?

The land the building is on is owned by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. This comprises 2.3019 hectares. 

We also lease a 5689 square metre block from Wellington Waterfront Ltd on our northern and north eastern boundaries. This area contains the access path up to The Marae steps, the iwi planting area, and the planting along Taranaki St Wharf.

Two smaller blocks on the southeast corner of the site (Cable St/Barnett St corner) are leased from Wellington City Council. These are the grassed area adjacent to the pedestrian crossing, and a small portion of the bus lane/carpark area.

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Earthquake protection

Te Papa is built on reclaimed land, so earthquake protection is vital.

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 let the building 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 quake (‘the big one’), the people and collections inside Te Papa would be safe. However, the building might have to be demolished.

Find out more in the Quake Braker exhibition.

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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.

Māori face

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

Read more about The Marae.

Pākehā (European) face

Te Papa’s south face greets the city with its vibrantly coloured panels. The area inside is oriented towards exhibitions with a Pākehā (European) focus. 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 Signs of a Nation | Ngā Tohu Kotahitanga explores the Treaty of Waitangi – the nation’s founding document. Here too is the Community Gallery, which houses exhibitions from other communities in New Zealand.

Read more about Signs of a Nation | Ngā Tohu Kotahitanga.
Read more about the Community Gallery.

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The Marae – Rongomaraeroa

The Marae, Rongomaraeroa, reflects Te Papa’s bicultural nature and observes Māori customs and values. It is a fully functioning marae – an inclusive place where all New Zealanders can meet, discuss, debate, and celebrate. It is also a place to welcome the living and farewell those who have passed on.

The Marae is unique because the kawa (protocols) change according to the iwi (tribal group) in residence. Every few years, a different iwi works with Te Papa to develop an exhibition. Kaumātua (elders) from the iwi are in residence at the Museum throughout. They set and uphold the kawa on The Marae.

Read more about our Iwi Exhibition Programme.

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Waharoa (gateways)

The idea of the waharoa, or gateway, is particularly meaningful at Te Papa. Two important waharoa are on display – a contemporary one on The Marae and a traditional one in Wellington Foyer. The entire Museum is also a waharoa – a gateway to New Zealand’s natural and cultural heritage.

Waharoa on The Marae, Level 4

The waharoa on The Marae 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:

  • 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.

Te Waharoa o Te Marae
Waharoa on The Marae, looking out over Wellington’s harbour, 1997, figures and stained glass by Luke Matthews and Oransay Smith


Te Waharoa o Te Papa
Waharoa on The Marae, looking towards Te Papa, 1997, figures and stained glass by Luke Matthews and Oransay Smith

Waharoa in Wellington Foyer, Level 2

A traditional waharoa is on display in Wellington Foyer. It was created for the Colonial Museum, Te Papa’s forerunner, in 1906.

Waharoa, 1906, Neke Kapua
Waharoa, 1906, carved by Neke Kapua and his sons Tene and Eremiha (Ngāti Tarawhai)

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Entrance boulders

The three boulders by Te Papa’s main entrance symbolise our commitment to New Zealand’s land and people. Specifically, they represent:

  • Papatūānuku (Earth Mother) – the middle stone
  • Tangata Whenua (Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand) – the stone nearest Cable Street
  • Tangata Tiriti (people in New Zealand by right of the Treaty of Waitangi) – the stone nearest the entrance.

The first two boulders are andesite lava that erupted from Mt Taranaki about 75,000 years ago. They come from a lahar, which made the rocks smooth and round. A lahar is a raging river of mud, snow, and ice that flows down a volcano.

The third boulder is Karamea granite, an igneous rock (formed from a molten state). The granite is about 350 million years old and comes from the Oparara River, north of Karamea. Granite represents solidity and permanence. Its various colours symbolise the diversity of Tangata Tiriti in New Zealand.

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Ball inside the entrance

The large ball inside Te Papa’s main entrance is called the Sponsorship Recognition Stone. It acknowledges Te Papa’s founding sponsors.

The stone:

  • is 1.4 billion years old – the oldest material in Te Papa
  • is made from gabbro (a coarse crystalline basalt often called Swedish Ebony Granite) from Transvaal, South Africa
  • sits on a base stone of Indian Hassan Green Granite
  • weighs 0.79 tonnes
  • measures 82 centimetres in diameter
  • was machined by the Kusser Granit company in Germany.

Low-pressure water from a 500-litre tank provides the power to rotate the ball. The layer of water between ball and base is just 0.2 millimetres thick. Solenoid-controlled jets pulse the water to keep the ball moving when no one is pushing it.

For hygiene reasons, the water is treated with swimming-pool chemicals and changed weekly.

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Longitude and latitude of Te Papa  

We took the following longitude and latitude readings using a Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx.

  • Northern point – pūwhara (lookout) on The Marae
    41 17.381 S, 174 46.967 E (+ or - 4 metres accuracy)
  • Southern point – main entrance
    41 17.424 S, 174 46.855 E (+ or - 12 metres accuracy)
  • Central point – roof near the core
    41 17.429 S, 174 46.930 E (+ or - 6 metres accuracy)

For more information

Need more information about our building? Ask our librarians.

Maps and access to our building

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