National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum (Former)

7 Buckle Street, Mt Cook, WELLINGTON

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The National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum (Former), completed in 1936, has outstanding historical significance as the home for nearly 60 years of a significant number of New Zealand's national treasures. Notable architects Gummer and Ford won the contract to design the building through a national competition. Their design is regarded as one of the best examples of Stripped Classical architecture in New Zealand. The National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum was both an important educational and a research institution and attracted many thousands of visitors over the years. The building occupies one of the premier sites in Wellington, which although somewhat less prominent than it was, remains highly visible from many vantage points. Mt Cook is also one of the city's most historically significant landmarks. The combination of the Stripped Classical former Museum and the Art Deco Carillon (of the National War Memorial), designed by the same partnership, is one of the country's great architectural precincts. Mount Cook or Pukeahu was in pre-European times the site of a pa. Following the arrival of the New Zealand Company settlers in 1840 the majority of the site was set aside for military purposes. British troops were temporarily stationed on Mount Cook until they left in 1870 and part of their barracks was turned into accommodation for new immigrants. In 1879 the barracks were removed, and construction began on the Mount Cook Gaol. Prisoners from the Terrace Gaol undertook the demolition of the barracks and prepared the site for the new building. Among their number were the ploughmen from Parihaka. In the late 1870s Taranaki Maori, faced with the confiscation of their land, undertook a campaign of passive resistance. Of particular note was the campaign led by the prophet Te Whiti at Parihaka. Here Maori removed survey pegs and fences and symbolically ploughed the land to show that they still occupied it. These people were arrested and brought to Wellington before being taken to prisons in the South Island where many died. In 2000 a memorial was erected in the north-west corner of the Museum grounds to mark their passage on this journey. Only one wing of the gaol was constructed (from 1882 onwards). The prison was closed by the turn of the twentieth century and the military reserve was handed back to the Army. In 1913 the site was temporarily occupied by 'Massey's Cossacks', mounted special police brought to Wellington to break the waterfront strike. In the 1920s it was decided that the site of Mount Cook was to be the home of the new National Museum. In 1865 Sir James Hector (1834-1907) established the Colonial Museum in a building behind Parliament in Thorndon. In 1907 it was renamed the Dominion Museum, as an acknowledgement to New Zealand's change of status to a Dominion. The building soon became too small for the collections and new accommodation was sought. It was also hoped that the new building would house a National Art Gallery. However, it was not until 1924 that the government agreed to set aside a sum of money toward the construction of a new facility. The remaining amount was equally met by public subscription. In 1928, after approaches from the Carillon Society, which had already cast bells for a memorial carillon, it was also decided to incorporate the National War Memorial at the Mount Cook site. The New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts (established in 1882 as the Fine Arts Academy) agreed to contribute its property and collections in return for permanent accommodation in the new building. This was achieved by the passing of the National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum Act 1930. Recognising that the new National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum and the National War Memorial were the most important public buildings to be constructed at this time, a national architectural competition was held in 1929 to find a suitably impressive design. The competition was won by the noted Auckland architectural firm of Gummer and Ford. In 1930 the prison building was demolished. The first structure to be built was the Carillon, which opened in 1932 (the Hall of Memories was finally completed in 1964; Category 1 historic place, List no. 1410). In 1933 Fletcher Construction began laying the foundations for the new museum building. Gummer and Ford's design called for a monumental three-storey building built in a Stripped Classical style. The building was an imposing structure constructed of reinforced concrete and partly faced with Putaruru stone. The roof was clad with copper sheathing and glass. A massive central portico supported by square fluted pillars dominated the main façade. Internally the building was organised around a central gallery known as the Maori Hall. To the east and west of the main gallery were further galleries for the museum, while the National Art Gallery was located on a floor above. The Museum was intended to lie on an axis extending through the Carillon and along a tree-lined boulevard to Courtenay Place (this plan did not eventuate). The only other Classical building on this scale was the Auckland War Memorial Museum built in 1924-1929 (Category 1 historic place, List no. 94). The National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum was opened by the Governor General Viscount Galway on 1 August 1936. In World War Two the National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum was closed to the public and used for defence purposes. During this time tunnels and air raid shelters were constructed underneath the grounds of the museum. It was not until 1949 that the building was re-opened to the public. Renamed the National Museum in 1972, in the post war years the Museum's collections again outgrew their accommodation. Temporary accommodation was sought in the nearby Mount Cook Police Station (occupied by the museum from 1967), and elsewhere. The National Art Gallery was also concerned about the lack of suitable storage. The government established a Project Development Board and the decision was made to move the collections to a new purpose-built site. In 1992 the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Act combined the National Museum and the National Art Gallery to form the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa). A competition was held to design a new home for Te Papa to be located on Wellington's waterfront. In 1996 the museum closed to the public and Te Papa opened its doors in February 1998. The National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum building and its associated land was transferred to the Wellington Tenths Trust. The Tenths Trust, in association with Massey University, redeveloped the building to establish the Massey University Wellington Campus. This involved renovation of the great hall, alteration of the tea garden into an area for teaching and seminars, construction and renovation of lecture theatres and provision of staff accommodation. Fletcher Construction was commissioned to undertake the work. It was completed in January 2001 and the Massey Wellington Campus opened that year. The Massey University Building - Tokomaru, as it is now called - is the home of the University's College of Creative Arts. The building’s life as an exhibition space has continued over the years, as the venue for student shows and, during the World War One centenary, the Great War exhibition.

National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum (Former). Image courtesy of | Minicooperd – Paul Le Roy | 12/01/2014 | Minicooperd – Paul Le Roy
National Art Gallery & Dominion Museum (Former) | Heritage New Zealand
National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum (Former). National War Memorial seen in the foreground. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image | 01/06/1936 | Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Private/No Public Access

List Number


Date Entered

6th June 1990

Date of Effect

6th June 1990

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 2 DP 87064, Wellington Land District, and the building known as the National Museum and Art Gallery Building thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the Information Upgrade Report for further information).

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 87064 (RTs WN54C/503, WN54D/136), Wellington Land District

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