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National Aquarium of New

Napier, New Zealand

National Aquarium of New Zealand

Completion Date


Official website

11 100 m2 Total Floor Area
7 615 m2 Total Increase
in Floor Area
2020 year of completion

A bold $45 million proposed upgrade of the National Aquarium in Napier will see it expand to three times its present size. Working with Marinescape, Weta Workshop, New Zealand Poet Sam Hunt and many other contributors...we will see the rebirth of a great New Zealand Facility.

The existing aquarium building was renewed in 2002 with a team of Marinescape, Warren and Mahoney and various other subcontractors and contractors.

On the initial review of the building and management, we found that the Aquarium as a business could be potentialized to a much higher degree. The exhibits were of a very old aquarium style of display that still is done in some parts of the world. We propose a more engaging experience to inform and engage the visitors of all ages.

The new generation of Aquarium displays will allow the visitors to get an immersive experience as opposed to a windows-in-the-wall design. The immersive approach tells layers of stories within a single exhibit. These ‘layers’ use species information, environmental messages, education information, Poetry and prose and pre-european stories on the relationship of the land and the sea.

The new Napier Aquarium of New Zealand | Te Whare Tangaroa O Aotearoa, tells multiple facets and layers information. The information can be delivered through Signage, Digital displays, App’s that use QR Codes to link to a central New Zealand Education website and Augmented Reality.

Journey of Discovery

The Aquarium has a Journey through the water ways and Seas of New Zealand. Starting at the Southern Mountains and then following the course of the water through Streams, creeks, Lakes, Rivers into the Mangroves and out into the Harbours of New Zealand. The coastal journey is representative of the various coastlines and reefs around New Zealand.

Features of the New Facility include but not limited to the following:

  • Bush Walk with live plants bush and freshwater stream;
  • Enhanced and enlarged display areas to improve the tourist, visitor experience;
  • The Joan Wiffen dinosaur fossil collection; The William Collenso shell collection;
  • The Glassed Water gallery with changing display, exhibitions, Green walls and sculptural poetry walls by Sam Hunt.

New and expanded breeding facilities and recovery programmes:

  • Kiwi recovery programme;
  • New Zealand native frogs and lizards;
  • Fisheries enhancement through the breeding and release of eggs and fry of key fish species into the Bay;
  • Bird and reptile hospital facilities;
  • Emergency response wildlife recovery unit.
  • New research laboratories and workspaces;
  • Laboratories to support research scientists using the outside living-laboratory tanks;
  • The East Coast LAB Centre for tsunami and earthquake research;
  • Waikato Centre for Coastal Science.

New teaching and outreach facilities:

  • A 200 seat theatre for public lectures and events;
  • Student laboratories;
  • Workspace for school programmes;
  • Educational displays on pests animals and plants, pollution, biodiversity and other topical subjects;
  • Robotics and technology in conservation and marine science;
  • A hub for the city end of the Cape to City wildlife corridor project.

Layers of Information

Prehistoric Species and Geology – With the additional of the Joan Wiffen dinosaur fossil collection and the William Collenso shell collection, we can discover these wonderful sciences in new purpose made facilities;

Flora and Fauna – We propose to introduce real planted gardens to all of the exhibits, thus giving a real close experience to nature and creating a clean air environment for the facility;

Insects and Reptiles (Endemic, Indigenous and Endangered Species) – one of the most important creatures of the ecosystem yet largely overlooked is the important role that Insects and reptiles play, we will present new ways to look at these ancient creatures;

Fish – We propose having New Zealand’s largest collection of Fish species, that can educate the visitors to what is in the waterways of this country and the amazing facts and mysteries that they hold;

Stories, Art and Song – Maori have lived for centuries the whole length and breadth of the country and over time have described most facets, of the soul of the land and sea. We investigate how the land and sea influenced Maori legend, popular songs and todays poets. We propose making the visitors journey one for the soul as well.


In the design of the building and the placement on the site, I have not designed the building to extend the seaward boundary as this creates problems for the Resource Consent. I propose that that the existing site for the aquarium, takes in a boundary relocation to fit in the car-parking and other amenities into the Aquarium building site.

I have designed the building to be a long and low formation, this was designed in an attempt to reduce the visual effect for the residences that look out to the sea. It is noted that there are existing trees that partially obscure the views to the sea.

Existing Structure versus the Proposed Structure

The proposed design utilizes the existing structure by limiting the works on the ‘central’ old circular structure where the bulk of the existing exhibits are held.

The concept behind this is that while the bulk of the new works are going ahead, the existing tanks with species can be maintained with limited requirements for moving them.

The new proposed structure is a combination of a light-weight Tensile Semi-transparent ETFE roof. This material is spread over Glulam Trusses, similar to the existing main tank of the existing aquarium.

The roof design is similar to the Waitomo Caves Visitor Center, however it differs slightly in the Material for the roof and Timber Structure.

Care has to be given to the selection of materials as Stainless Steel fittings are important, due to the fact that the building has humid salt air inside and outside. Thus consideration to the design material specifications is a paramount concern.

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