The Eye of the Fish

August 15, 2019

New National Archives

At long last – a bit of good news around a project that is not just about a strengthening of an existing building, but instead is actually a whole new building. It is early days yet, but it looks as though the dark cloud that destroyed the Defence Force HQ in Thorndon is finally lifting – instead of the old soldiers returning to a new building on their site, it is the long-neglected National Archive who are gaining the site and erecting a new building. Hooray, and about bloody time too.

In all honesty, it is a site that is perfect for Archives, as it sits directly between the current Archives building and the current National Library. Both of these departments are under the control of Internal Affairs and they have long squabbled and bitched at who should be top dog – with the Nat Lib team winning every time. De facto Government Architects Warren and Mahoney have scored this project on top of their previous win with the refurb of the Nat Library building and more recently the Nat Lib Auditorium within. No sign, of course, of the previous architects on the Defence Force site, CCM, whose building has now vanished without trace. Presumably we still have a Defence Force somewhere in the country.

This story was on the Stuff website yesterday but I’m not sure if it has actually hit the papers yet – Stuff itself has one of the worst archive systems in the world, with everything not so much hit and miss, more just miss all the time, but I have managed to find an online link here. Of course their article does not mention who the architects or engineers are, but one thing is for certain on this site: despite the ground conditions here necessitating the destruction of the former Defence building, the new engineers obviously trust it enough to build on again with a treasure chest for our most treasured Taonga. My guess would be, of course, a minimum of full base isolation for this building on this site. There was some controversy over the last building, with some people insisting that it too had been base-isolated, and others denying that it had been: regardless, it had not, but this next one definitely will be.

So what do we actually think of the architecture being produced by WAM? Well, it’s pretty damn hard to tell. It is early days yet, with apparently the building still in concept design “which is getting $25.48m just to get through the design phase” although someone has managed to squeeze a nice render out of that tiny budget. It looks like about a 6 storey building, clad in copper cladding over glass behind – WaM are getting keen on their return to basic materials. The Supreme Court building was clad in bronze, the Nat Lib Auditorium was lined in native timber, their materials are from a palette of raw and naturally beautiful. The form is a little reminiscent of the white stone ramparts of the Nat Library along the road, and a pattern on the outside could be a digital depiction of DNA or old computer cards, or something similar from the archives.

Most excitingly, for one of our readers at least, will be that it could also be a new home for Nga Taonga Sound and Vision – what used to be the Film Archive before Frank Stark left and it all went to pot. Perhaps Starkive would like to comment?

Post-script: Some more pictures added

And yes, that view does have an uncomfortable similarity to that bog-ugly Korean car-carrier referred to in the comments below…

16 - 08 - 19

It’s fantastic news and a new building is much needed.

As for the architecture itself, it’s okay, but it kind of reminds me of that peculiar looking cargo ship that docks every few weeks on Aotea Quay (

It’s also great to see the new ‘plaza’ being created on the remainder of the site and further to this it’d be good to see something done to the public space around the National Library – in fact the whole parliamentary precinct is extremely lacklustre and could do with some attention.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the old building/site when it is no longer need – I doubt somehow that it’ll it be kept.

P.S. Defence are moving into the Bowen State Building when it’s completed – which begs the question of where are the agencies that were meant to get it going to go.

16 - 08 - 19

There’s more on this (including a video with more pretty graphics) at

16 - 08 - 19

One of the reasons the Council is pausing on the library rebuild is the sea level rise. Are there any estimates when the new Archives will be underwater?

Kumara Republic
17 - 08 - 19

With any luck the new site for Nga Taonga will also reopen the mini-cinema. We still don’t know if/when Readings Courtenay will reopen.

17 - 08 - 19

Thanks Team – Tom, that’s a car carrier – renown for ugliness and boxiness, there’s little grace at all in those ships. Seeing as most cars come from Korea these days, they ply a regular route between Ulsan and New Zealand. I just learned yesterday that of the 5 top selling cars in NZ (Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Hyundai etc ) – they’re all made in Korea.
But yes, i had not noticed the plaza near the Archive until you pointed it out – the site is a really awkward L shape, so it does make sense to keep it more to a simple rectangle. The old / current / present Archives building was, I think i’ve been told, the old Government printing works – massively large concrete floors therefore as the old printing presses used to give buildings a fair hammering, and so it is unlikely to be earthquake prone at all. I suspect they’ll keep both. Archives, by their very nature, never through anything away, even their old building.

Owen – The site for the new archives is probably about 10m above water level – if the water gets that high, then most of the world is already fucked, and Lambton Quay will already have their ground floor and first floor under water. So, probably not their biggest concern.

Vertical File #5452
17 - 08 - 19

A few questions spring to mind.

Where are the physical collections going to be held – particularly once they are digitised? Archives are bulky, heavy and environmentally sensitive. Once they have been digitised (and millions of dollars have been allocated for that process on both the paper and a-v records) they seldom need accessing. There are existing, purpose-built facilities for Ngā Taonga’s film video and audio holdings at Plimmerton, Whitireia and Avalon and already purchased expansion land next door in each case. Regardless of sea level rise, piling them up in Thorndon is hardly the best risk-management approach.

How publicly accessible will the new building be? Will it have a cinema, for example – and will anyone go to the movies in Mulgrave St?

What is happening to the proceeds from the sale of the Taranaki St building by the Ngā Taonga Trust? It was purchased and developed with virtually no public funding.

18 - 08 - 19

#5452 – yes, I agree that the physical collections are bulky and awkward to care for, but then again, you’re not going to need a building that size if you’re only storing digital data. Surely this building is being designed to accommodate the physical collections – hence its big broad bottom just like a boat about to float away, should the dreaded inundation happen.

I did have a wonderful experience a few years ago, doing some research into my forefathers – and managed to track down a bundle of letters that had been collected by my great great grandfather and tied up with a ribbon and kept in a box by Archives NZ for the next 150 years. There was a certain sense of magic that I felt when I retrieved that item from their storage vaults, took it to my booth, and unwrapped the ribbon that great great grand-dad had tied up all those years ago, read the notes in his hand-writing, and took photos of this thing that was, in all truth, only a treasure to me. If it had been digitised, it would not have been nearly so nice.

Vertical File #5452
18 - 08 - 19

Levi – you might be interested in this:

19 - 08 - 19

@Leviathan, I think you are mistaken, most NZ utes come from Thailand,

“Thailand is recognised as the powerhouse of the one-tonne ute. Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Holden Colorado, Mitsubishi Triton, Nissan Navara, Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50 are all built there.”

20 - 08 - 19

#5452 – you’re right, i did indeed find that interesting….

greenwelly – damn, yes, strange as it may seem, considering Thailand seems to be full of scooters and trucks and buses, somehow it makes the utes of every other country there. How very odd.

Lindsay Shelton
22 - 08 - 19

Re the (now closed) Nga Taonga cinema. Seems to be a foolish oversight that the newly opened little theatre in the National Library is not designed or equipped for movies. In its original form, it had a long history of screenings, first for the film society and later for the film festival. Now: no longer possible. Silly.

24 - 08 - 19

Lindsay, I’m sure that they could show films there if they really want to – but equally therefore, perhaps they have decided that they do not want to? Or maybe, just possibly, they are already planning for a new cinema in the newly proposed Archives building next door? After all, the architects are the same company – so they probably had advance warning.

At any rate, I’m very glad the old auditorium’s hideous dated pink and grey colour scheme has gone. Out with the 80s and 90s!

stuart gardyne
29 - 08 - 19

I’m sure Starkive or Lindsay are better placed on the technical requirements but I think Lindsay Shelton has a point. Why is the Nat Lib auditorium not able to screen film (spool to spool, or platter to platter). In fact where is this city can you now? The Embassy, Soundings at Te Papa perhaps?

Levi – no you cannot ‘if you want’ show film movies at the Nat library auditorium. You need a fire rated projection booth. With a projector. And I suspect, from what Lindsay has indicated, they did not retain or provide for that in the renovated auditorium.

30 - 08 - 19

With the closure of the Taranaki St cinema, I believe the answer to your question is that there are no fully-fledged film-based cinemas left in Wellington – certainly none able to show 35mm sound, 35mm silent and 16mm films in the original formats.

It really isn’t accurate to say that all films can still be shown digitally. They have to have been transferred – a lengthy and costly process which almost certainly will never be completed. Moreover, saying digital video is interchangeable with optical cinema projection is like saying that formed concrete and vibrapac blocks are the same thing.

30 - 08 - 19

thanks Stuart and starkive – we could ask Warren and Mahoney about that – what I meant is that the client (i.e. Nat Library) must have decided not to have the fire-rated projection booth, and must have told WAM not to bother with it. My money is on the new Archive boat / building having a suitable screening place.

But what happened to the Taranaki St Film Archive? Is it open or is it closed? The foyer still seems to be functioning, but the food bar is devoid of sustenance and there doesn’t seem to be any point in it existing if they don’t have films there, don’t show films there, and don’t talk about films there. Is there anything left at all, except the building? Can I shed a tear or two?

1 - 09 - 19

Does anyone know the seismic rating of the present building? It has been strengthened in the past. I’m not sure if it’s visible in the public areas, but my recollection from walking through the vaults area is of large H beams (maybe 400mm) that diagonally brace the floors & walls.
Regarding film projection facilities in Wellington, the Roxy in Miramar has 35mm in the large cinema, at least this story indicates it was still there two years ago.

Given the ownership I’d be surprised if it’s been removed. 16mm is not mentioned.

2 - 09 - 19

William, yes, you’re probably right about the Roxy. Bound to be a film projector in there.

Re the current Archives building – as I said above, “The old / current / present Archives building was, I think i’ve been told, the old Government printing works – massively large concrete floors therefore as the old printing presses used to give buildings a fair hammering, and so it is unlikely to be earthquake prone at all.”

When I visited the old Dominion building last year, the size of the structure for their printing floor was MASSIVE. I’d hazard a guess that the Archive building leaks, but is not going to fall down any time soon…