Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Experiencing Cultural Institutions as National Artefacts: Exploring the use of Black in  New Zealand Museum Architecture to Convey National Identity

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posted on 2021-11-12, 14:46 authored by Pierce, Hannah

The demand in New Zealand for cultural institutions to promote artefacts of national significance was identified by the Wellington City Council as part of an initiative to further acknowledge cultural identities within the capital. This thesis investigates opportunities for New Zealand’s cultural institutions, particularly its museums, to be experienced themselves as national artefacts, promoting national identity not just through the display of New Zealand’s national collections, but also through the identity and experience of the architecture that contains those collections. This research aims to develop a museum that integrates the theories of new museology and narrative based design as an experiential understanding of national collections with sociologist Dr Prudence Stone’s theory regarding the significance of black to New Zealand. Stone’s theory highlights the significance of black through four central themes - creation, death transgression and race. Each of these themes will therefore be applied to New Zealand artists Ralph Hotere, Bill Culbert and Colin McCahon to test how black as an expression of cultural identity within New Zealand can be applied to New Zealand architecture. These three New Zealand artists were selected as they all relate to Stone’s analysis of the significance of black to New Zealand, analysing how black has been applied to express a national identity within New Zealand. Black as an expression of cultural identity within New Zealand was chosen to develop as research highlighted the significant number of artefacts representing black as an expression of cultural identity within the archives of the National Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa. This design case study proposes a museum within the alleyway Farmers Lane, Wellington. This site provides a spatial investigation from darkness up to the light while further thematically creating constraints to extend the outcome of the design. The museum therefore creates a vertical gallery that spatially explores themes from artists Ralph Hotere, Bill Culbert and Colin McCahon, three distinct New Zealand artists who symbolically employ black to convey a national identity. The design is therefore divided into three datums, each representing a distinct characteristic of the thematic understanding of black within New Zealand as identified by each of the three artists. Overall this research suggests the architectural experience of a discrete collection of acclaimed national artists working within a common national theme can be exhibited so that there is no longer the need for an anonymous, context free white walled approach within museum design. Instead the architectural experience has the opportunity to become one of the exhibitions of black’s symbolic national identity.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Architecture (Professional)

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Brown, Daniel K