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Urban History Museum in Auckland

Part 1 Project 2003
Arron Kong
Joshua Morrin
University of Auckland Auckland New Zealand
The museum provides exhibition spaces (with curatorial and archive rooms), a meeting place, research offices and public facilities, to meet the needs and encourage the participation of urban designers, architects, artists, school groups, tourists and the general public. The exhibition galleries support historical material, the display of proposed developments for public comment and the curating of works by artists and sculptors that respond to and interpret the concept of a city.

Public facilities include a restaurant with outdoor dining, and foyers and courtyards for cultural events. The building is intended as a new urban icon and sculptural landmark.

The building concept is generated from the way in which Auckland’s urban form has responded to changes in transportation and to the existing land form and harbour. The circular form embodies a “mechanical force” (circular and continuous motion of an engine) and also represents the ideas of “boundary” and “restriction”. Parts of the building break out of the boundary, signifying the effects of advancing technology and human social and cultural evolution. There is an ironical celebration of both rapid urban development and a reflection on local history and culture.

The structure and pre-cast cladding of the building needs to be custom-made – a reminder of older craftsmanship within a design that engages with modern technology. The modular openings in some panels vary in position while still creating a rhythmic pattern throughout the building that is suggestive of mass production and industrial repetition. The openings are carefully designed to allow particular sunlight penetration; and some of the pre-cast panels are cut and “folded” to strengthen the structure, allowing bigger unobstructed spaces for the internal galleries.

The design has been developed through a variety of media: drawing, collage, painting, digital images and physical models. This process of development is both vital and a complement to the project’s concept of the on-going evolution of the city.

Arron Kong
Joshua Morrin

The development of a city over time can involve selection among competing alternatives, careful consideration of what has gone before and a clear vision for the future; and the design of an urban history museum to celebrate a city’s development and to provide a focus for the study of its continuing development and redevelopment can involve many of the same procedural elements. With exceptional energy and commitment, Arron selected and compared alternative possible sites for an urban history museum and explored, through both models and sketches, alternative design concepts for the building itself.

The outcome is a site close to the heart of the original harbour-edge settlement of Auckland where the museum would contribute to a contemporary reassertion of this location as the centre of gravity of the modern city that has evolved. The building form that has emerged eschews symbolic gestures (the harbour form, sails, volcanic cones). Instead, the form welcomes and embraces the public while also expressing the dynamic character of the city’s life and development and offering multiple opportunities for expansion or re-working of the building form. A key element of the success of the design is its manifest aptitude for drawing the public in, inviting them to engage with and reflect on the history of the city and to participate in projecting and planning its future. The building itself would make a significant contribution to the fabric of the city, and is sensitively scaled to the site and its context.

The design concept and its development have been explored through sketching, painting, digital representation and a large number of finely-detailed and exquisitely-made cardboard models. The final form displays an extraordinary design maturity for a Part I student – an innate sensitivity to scale and proportion both of the overall form and also of its parts, a careful planning of interior spaces and the connections between inside and outside, and an awareness of the structural and constructional issues in supporting and cladding the form. The result is a building not only of its time and place but also one that will stand up well to future scrutiny, just as any good city should.


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