Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Re-imagining the museum

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posted on 2021-11-15, 21:42 authored by Marsh, Laura

Twentieth-century museums have become more than displays of art and history. Unlike their nineteenth century origins, museums today are a centre of culture, education and entertainment.  Designing a circulation system that connects the transitions between exhibits is like forming a riddle for a visitor to enter, experience, solve and remember.  The museum reflects every asset, flaw, scar, crease, emotion, and sole of whom has time to stand and observe. For one to observe, one has to navigate. Seeking the key principles into designing a successful circulation between architecture and visitor will allow a large-scale building to be read effortlessly and seamlessly like a well-written novel.  In the late 1980’s a design brief was revealed to the public requesting proposals for a National Museum of New Zealand. 10 years later the doors opened to Te Papa Tongarewa on Wellington’s waterfront. Among the submitted proposals, was a concept design by Ian Athfield and Frank Gehry. Their proposal did not make it past the conceptual stage, thus offering the opportunity to explore its potential interiority and circulation.  This thesis engages with the great museums that initiated 21st Century architecture such as the Guggenheim of Bilbao, the Jewish Museum of Berlin and most importantly, investigation into the design of Te Papa Tongarewa to analyse their method of circulation. For these museums both encapsulate the heritage of their location as well as defining future possibilities for museum architecture.  This thesis re-imagines the possibilities of the National Museum of New Zealand. This will be investigated through the tools of circulation and the experiential qualities that the architecture initiates as our bodies and the way we move are in continuous dialogue with our architecture.  This thesis investigates the importance and functionality of atrium designs, as well as the influence it has on the structures circulatory system. Exploring the potential of an Athfield / Gehry design will inspire an alternate reality to what could have been.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Interior Architecture

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Interior Architecture

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970112 Expanding Knowledge in Built Environment and Design

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Wood, Peter