Media Release: Bright Future for Turnbull House
March 28, 2022 | Stories



The future of historic Turnbull House, original home of the Alexander Turnbull Library, is finally assured, thanks to the Government’s ongoing commitment to retaining this key heritage building in central Wellington.

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga has commenced work on the multiyear, multimillion-dollar project to upgrade the building which in recent years has sat unoccupied in the heart of Wellington’s historic government precinct awaiting earthquake strengthening.

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga CEO Andrew Coleman is delighted the agency has been tasked with the project, which he says will breathe new life into the Category 1 Heritage Building. “This project signals a new chapter, to a much-admired and highly significant heritage building that will benefit all New Zealanders, and international visitors, when it returns as a living part of the community.”

Work includes seismic strengthening (including installation of state-of-the-art base isolators), a full systems upgrade, a lift to improve accessibility within the building, and refurbishment of the interior.

“As well as seismic strengthening, we’ll also be working with the heritage values that make the place special and unique to adapt the building to 21st-century needs. It’s in a prime location and is intended to have public use. That might include exhibition space, research rooms for art and heritage collections, event space, meeting rooms for community groups, and offices – there are myriad possibilities,” says Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Director, Central Region, Dr Jamie Jacobs.

Turnbull House, an eclectic mix of Scottish Baronial, Queen Anne and Medieval architectural elements, stands directly across from the Beehive in Bowen Street where a streambed once met the historic shoreline between Pipitea Pā and Kumutoto Kainga. The building was architect-designed as a combination private home and library in 1916 for nationally significant collector and bibliophile Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull. Following his death in 1918, Turnbull’s collection was bequeathed to the government, and two years later the building opened to the public as the Alexander Turnbull Library (now housed at the National Library).

In 2009, after decades of public use by the Alexander Turnbull Library and, later, the Wellington community, Turnbull House was assessed as an earthquake-prone building and efforts to plan and secure the necessary funding to strengthen the building began. Management of the property passed from the Department of Conservation to Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga in 2017. Dr Jacobs says it is gratifying that the long-standing goal of safely reopening the building is now within reach, and detailed design work is currently underway.

“We are really excited about the future of Turnbull House. Together with the newly strengthened and upgraded Old St Paul’s, and Old Government Buildings – both of which are cared for and managed by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga – Turnbull House will be a focal point for heritage in Wellington’s CBD where the public can visit and learn about significant parts of New Zealand's history and enjoy the aesthetics and stories which are part of the fabric of these heritage spaces.”


Adrienne Hannan
Kaiwhakahaere Whakapā, Whakatairanga hoki | Manager Communications and Marketing 
Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga 
+64 4 470 8066 
+64 27 683 9065

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