Museum Seeks Public Input into $195 million Proposed Redevelopment Plans

Saturday 06 June 2020

Canterbury Museum, a much-loved Canterbury taonga (treasure) and the most-visited tourist attraction in Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island), is seeking public input into proposed redevelopment plans that are critical to its ability to remain open.

Museum Director Anthony Wright

Museum Director Anthony Wright says the Museum needs more fit-for-purpose space to look after Canterbury’s taonga (treasures). Precious objects are stored in every available corner.

Director Anthony Wright has today announced proposals for a redevelopment of the Museum’s Rolleston Avenue site. He says the $195 million project is needed to protect the Museum’s historic buildings and the 2.3 million objects in the collection, and to bring the interior up to the standards expected of a fit-for-purpose twenty-first century museum.

“The Museum cares for the buildings and the collection on behalf of the people of Canterbury. We have a responsibility to explain the need for the redevelopment to the wider Canterbury community. It’s really important that people give us feedback on the proposals and we will be considering it very carefully.”

Building Issues
Mr Wright says there have been significant issues with the Museum buildings for many years, particularly those built in the twentieth century, that were exacerbated by the earthquakes.

“Some of the buildings have a long list of problems and are either well past the end of their useful life, or need major upgrades. They are causing damage to the collections they are meant to protect. The buildings leak and let in insects and because there’s minimal air conditioning and no insulation, we can’t control temperature and humidity."

Museum Director Anthony Wright

Storage areas are scattered throughout the building including the basement which leaks when it rains. Sewerage and water pipes run through collection stores.

Canterbury Museum Trust Board Chair David Ayers says, “The buildings aren’t fit for a museum caring for precious collections. Bare wiring runs through corridors, water pipes through storerooms, there’s only one lift for the whole building, not enough toilets and we spend a lot of time patching up problems. Apart from earthquake strengthening in the 1980s and 1990s, which culminated in the 1995 Garden Court building, no major improvement work has been done since the 1970s.

“We simply cannot guarantee the safety of our collection under the current conditions, let alone effectively carry out the research and educational components of our work. We are also very limited in what we can do to improve our visitor experience and show off more of our collection,” says Mr Ayers.

The Museum needs more usable space to add base isolation across the site, giving greater protection to the heritage buildings and the collection.

Rabbit on display in the Museum

This rabbit was on display in the Living Canterbury exhibition. His fur was eaten by case moths in just a few weeks.

Proposals under consideration would mean more of the collection could be displayed and the return of popular exhibits such as the blue whale skeleton. Currently, only 1% of the collection can be displayed at any one time and some of the taonga have never been on public view.

Public Feedback
“The Museum will continue to work with key stakeholders and will create a number of opportunities for the public to give us feedback before any plans are finalised and submitted for resource consent,” says Mr Wright.

“The proposal to redevelop the site is supported by key organisations and Museum partners including the Canterbury Mayoral Forum and ChristchurchNZ. We are also working closely with Ngāi Tūāhuriri to ensure the redevelopment occurs in a genuine working relationship with mana whenua.”

Upoko of Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Dr Te Maire Tau says, “We are pleased to work alongside the Museum. This is a unique opportunity for Ngāi Tūāhuriri and iwi Māori to help create a new museum for Canterbury in which we tell our stories, with the support of the Museum team.

“It is also an opportunity for Ngāi Tūāhuriri and Papatipu Rūnanga to begin an exploration into the role of whare taonga and rūnanga aspirations for custodianship and care of taonga. We are continually looking at what a museum is in a modern world as well as its location and how it resonates with the direction of Christchurch and its people” says Dr Tau.

Selwyn District Council Mayor, Sam Broughton welcomes the proposed redevelopment of the Museum. “Canterbury Museum is one of New Zealand’s oldest museums and has been on the same site since 1870. It is a significant contributor to the local economy and Canterbury’s cultural life. It’s important people give their opinion on what they would like to see in a proposed redevelopment.”

Joanna Norris, Chief Executive of ChristchurchNZ says, “Canterbury Museum has an important role as a place where so many of the stories of our people and land come together. The redevelopment is critical as it will enable these stories to be given the room to breathe, and ensure our residents and visitors can share these stories in a beautiful environment for the future.

“This helps continue to build a strong and confident city identity where we feel grounded even in times of uncertainty. We encourage the people of Canterbury to get behind this and share their views.”

 Anthony Wright says, “The broad proposals up for public and stakeholder discussion and input have very few bottom lines, but we are absolutely committed to preserving, restoring and protecting the heritage buildings. We will be consulting closely with Canterbury’s heritage buildings community.”

“Our heritage buildings are an iconic feature of the Museum and Christchurch’s cultural landscape. The proposed redevelopment underlines their importance as one of the most precious parts of the collection that we care for on behalf of the Canterbury community. We’re also planning to restore some of the architectural features lost over the years from the original buildings, including bringing back the original flèche (slender spire) on the Rolleston Avenue facade.”

The public are invited to give their feedback from today by going to the front page of the Museum website – Public and stakeholder input is expected to be completed in time for a resource consent application to be lodged in November.

The proposed redevelopment is costed at $195 million. The Museum already has in hand well over half of the money needed, including funds allocated to the project by the four contributing local authorities (Christchurch City and Waimakariri, Hurunui and Selwyn District Councils) as part of their obligations under the Canterbury Museum Trust Board Act 1993.

“The Museum is in active discussions with other possible funders and is developing a business case seeking funding from central Government to complete the funding plan,” Mr Wright says. “We have also made a submission to Crown Infrastructure Partners for the proposed redevelopment to be considered a “shovel ready” project that could receive Government funding as part of a stimulus package to assist New Zealand’s economy post Covid-19.”

“Over the last few years, a Museum working party, including external business representatives, has considered a range of options for the Museum’s future and developed feasibility studies to provide a reliable cost for any proposed redevelopment. However we are now starting our process with a clean piece of paper and I encourage everyone to tell us what they would like to see in a redeveloped Museum,” says Anthony Wright.


  • Canterbury Museum comprises several buildings built between 1870 and 1995, which are an important part of its public identity. The nineteenth century Mountfort-designed buildings were earthquake strengthened in the 1990s and, as a result, are the only Gothic Revival buildings in the city that were not extensively damaged in the 2010/11 Canterbury earthquakes.
  • The Museum looks after worldwide collections of human and natural history, with a focus on Canterbury and the Antarctic. Many of the collections are nationally and internationally significant and include one of the most important international collections from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration and discovery. The Museum also houses a large collection of Ngāi Tahu taonga and cultural artefacts from the early days of Canterbury.
  • Canterbury Museum employs 90 people.
  • Planning for a major redevelopment of the Museum started in 2001 and was then costed at $46.8 million. The Ministry for Culture and Heritage had approved funding of $15.8 million over 6 years. Heritage advocates successfully appealed some aspects of this project to the Environment Court and it did not proceed.
  • Planning for a new $68.7 million project started in 2009. Development was to be phased over 4 years with major funding committed by the Museum and the four contributing Canterbury councils, with further funding sought from the Ministry. The project was due to be publicly launched in March 2011, but the major earthquake struck.
  • Thanks to strengthening work in the 1980s and 1990s, the Museum buildings suffered relatively minor, but still millions of dollars of damage, in the earthquakes. In April 2012, the Museum was closed for 3 months, reopening in stages through to April 2013, while relatively low level earthquake repair work was carried out. All of the buildings have been assessed as exceeding the minimum requirement of 35% of the new Building Code Standard for buildings open to the public and containing contents valuable to the community.
  • Following the earthquakes, the Museum commissioned a range of technical reports on the current Museum buildings. The key finding was that most of the materials of the twentieth century buildings are at the end of, or well beyond, their useful life.


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