Pearson & Associates: Kaiapoi Museum

Te Awhina Rangimarie Arahanga

Museum consultant

Rick Pearson

Principal,f Pearson & Associates Architects

Kaiapoi Museum

Kaiapoi Museum Ruataniwha Kaiapoi Civic Centre 176 Williams Street Kaiapoi New Zealand

Kaiapoi, New Zealand
ServiceIQ 2016 New Zealand Museum Awards / Best Museum Project


Seismic Restraint




New Zealand has the dubious reputation of being known as the Shaky Isles. The South Island and, specifically, the region of Canterbury, are particularly renowned for their earth shaking, rattling and rolling.

The South Island was geologically formed by the clashing of two active and continually colliding tectonic plates. Where they meet, up rises the mountainous backbone of the island known as the Southern Alps. Ricocheting outward from the Alps are fault lines that stretch toward the Tasman Ocean on the western coastline and the Pacific Ocean on the eastern shore.To the east lies Canterbury,and the small townships of Kaiapoi and Kaikoura.

There is always movement along these alpine faults. While the Southern Alps are known to grow at the same speed as human hair or fingernails,weather and erosion ensure they are kept well-trimmed.It is also not unexpected to every now and then experience an earth rattle or shake.Large notable events have occurred over time, yet most of the movements go unnoticed, being too small to be felt. However, there was always a Cantabrian catchphrase regarding the imminent arrival of a big earthquake" It's not a matter of if, but when" And as was predicted, "a big one" not only arrived but it also triggered off a long series of "little ones, big ones and even bigger, massive ones". Over the past seven years, these rattles have exploded into three major catastrophic episodes, creating thousands of aftershocks. Since 2010,Canterbury has experienced over 20,000 tremors.

For New Zealand's award-winning architects Pearson Associates, dealing with the effects of these "shaky islands" brings a whole new dimension to museum design. Leading a collective of experienced and talented architects and consultants,who specialise in museum exhibition and interpretation design,Director Rick Pearson oversees a team of designers, curators, and technicians, all of whom have many years of museum experience.

In 2016,they achieved acclaim for winning New Zealand's Best Museum Award for Kaiapoi Museum, the first museum to be rebuilt and opened after demolition due to the Canterbury earthquakes.Ironically, this same year, Pearson Associates were drawing tantalisingly close to the completion of the Kaikoura Museum. However, just four days before cutting the ribbon and opening the doors to the awaiting public and invited guests, the long-anticipated reopening of the museum was not to be. At midnight, a breath away from the finish line, Kaikoura was to experience the longest and strongest ever recorded earthquake in New Zealand's history.The town became completely isolated from the world and under civil emergency.

Pearson was aware that, historically, the seismic risk in Kaikoura was greater than elsewhere in New Zealand, so in conjunction with his engineers, he had ensured robust seismic technology was incorporated into the design. Learning from the Kaiapoi experience, the curator and installation team had combined a unique blend of spiritual and museum conservation techniques to safe guard the collection.

Although the official opening of the museum never took place, a celebration of sorts did occur, with the new space functioning superbly in the aftermath of the earthquake as the Civil Defence Rescue Headquarters. This transformed the museum for a time into a very relevant and living centre - a convergence between the past and the future.
Earthquakes change the dynamics of a community physically, economically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. They also produce a determination to protect what little remains or what can be saved. In these instances of disaster, museums can become a unifying common denominator to a community, galvanising a convergence of heritage with the future in the present. And there is a very real sense of community pride associated with this.

Kaiapoindash; the museum that rose up from destruction.
Kaikourandash; the museum that stood its ground.




Kaiapoi Museum

This new museum was developed after the devastating Christchurch earthquakes destroyed the original Kaiapoi Museum. With limited access to the largely battered collections, we developed a "democratic" non-hierarchical approach to the exhibition design, reflecting the social nature of the small town of Kaiapoi.

The museum is formed by series of pavilions, made up of large cabinets containing assemblages of objects stacked 6m high, reflecting the museum's act of collecting, the packing of people';s possessions after the earthquakes and the crating of trade objects.

Kai-a-poi loosely translates in the indigenous Maori language as: "resources coming and going" (ie trade). A series of "trade pavilions", typical of trade shows during the town's post-colonial hey-day of the 1950s, reinforce the historical importance of trade to Kaiapoi from pre-European Maori trading and pounamu (stone age) manufacturing, to the trading port and abattoirs, and to the flax, flour and woollen mills of later history.
Kaiapoi Museum is a typical New Zealand small town museum for the locals rather than the international visitor. Containing many commonplace collections, we have placed an extraordinary focus on the lives and stories behind the objects on display. This same "people focus" forms the centre of the museum, where the volunteers - literally the life of the museum - rather than being in a back room, can be seen to do their work, sit and chat in the very centre of the space.

Winner Best Museum Award Museums Aotearoa 2016
Winner of New Zealand Institute of Architects Regional Award
Winner of New Zealand Institute of Architects Colour Award


Kaikoura Museum


This new museum development is a primary tourist attraction for the Kaikoura District. Building on the existing museum collection, we expanded the interpretation to include themes for an international visitor as well as those for the locals, while keeping the eclectic charm of a New Zealand provincial museum.

The circular layout of the museum interior allows for a twofold conceptual schematic. Firstly, the centre of the museum begins with the local natural history and at its focus, the planktonic basis of all life - with specimens housed in a circular internally-expanding mirror box. From here, the displays radiate in ever-increasing circles to incorporate themes covering the full range of the natural environment, to eventually include the long local human history of fishing, whaling and village life.The second schema is concerned with the act of museum collecting and display - the circular fittings have a "display"; side (complete with beautiful joinery in timber veneers, glass cases, and extensive graphic interpretation) and a "collection storage" side (where specimens are securely stored on banks of shelving). In this manner, the same object can be seen from two differing contexts.

Mediating the interpretation are poems and karakia (blessings) that galvanize the essence of each topic and can be read as part of a many-layered visitor experience.

Finalist Best Museum Award Museums Aotearoa 2017
Winner of New Zealand Institute of Architects Colour Award
Winner of New Zealand Institute of Architects Regional Award


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