Te Papa Tongarewa – The National Museum of Aotearoa New Zealand

Intelligent Engineering Design for a Highly Seismic Environment


Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington), Aotearoa/New Zealand

Year Completed


Te Papa Tongarewa is the National Museum of Aotearoa New Zealand, located on the Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington) waterfront—an iconic museum entertaining millions of visitors from all over the world. Te Papa hosts many stunning artifacts of Aotearoa New Zealand’s cultural heritage, providing a direct link to the country’s recent and distant past. Working in partnership with Arup, Holmes’ engineering experts successfully delivered a landmark structure with a design life of 150 years, in a highly seismic environment.

From a technical perspective, the project was exceptionally challenging. The museum is designed for very heavy floor loads with an extremely large grid to maintain future flexibility for exhibitions and storage of collections. The building foundation platform required ground improvement, with heavy weights dropped across the entire site over several months to compact the softer materials. Te Papa itself is base isolated, resting on lead rubber bearings and teflon sliders that cushion the building, its occupants and contents from earthquake. In fact, the museum actually features an exhibit about earthquakes and how the structure protects against them!

If you haven’t already been to Te Papa, we recommend you schedule it in as soon as possible. While many of the exhibits will take your breath away, don’t forget to enjoy the structure itself—an intelligent engineering design that demonstrates the very best in structural thinking.

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