Museum delighted with public feedback on proposed redevelopment project

Friday 24 July 2020

Putting the blue whale skeleton back on display, improving visitor facilities, protecting the heritage buildings, and new prehistoric animal exhibits are just some of the ideas voiced by Cantabrians having their say on the proposed redevelopment of the Museum.

Blue Whale

Senior Curator Natural History Paul Scofield in the Whale Storeroom.

Museum Director Anthony Wright says he is delighted with the number of people who have taken time to give feedback and the mostly positive comments that have emerged from the consultation so far.

The Museum estimates that it has reached more than 400,000 people through face-to-face meetings, advertising, social media and other channels. Its engagement website has been visited more than 11,000 times by more than 2,000 users, 160 comments have been left on the Ideas Wall and 204 people have completed the survey.

Mr Wright says the public feedback demonstrates a strong community connection and support for the 150-year-old Museum. More than 60% of the people who completed the survey visited the Museum three or more times a year, 25% once or twice and 13% less than once a year.

“Many people have told us how much they love The Christchurch Street, Discovery and temporary exhibitions such as the popular Ancient New Zealand: Squawkzilla and the Giants, currently on display, and Air New Zealand 75 Years," says Mr Wright.

“Other ideas include a greater emphasis on Māori, Pasifika and multicultural exhibits. We’re really pleased that people want to see the return of our much-loved blue whale skeleton, as we are planning to bring it back on display after more than 25 years.”

Mr Wright says that of the negative comments received, the majority are constructive. “We are listening to all the feedback and it will be taken into account in shaping the proposed redevelopment.”

One of the most common topics that people raised is the representation of Māori in the Museum.

“We have made a commitment to Ngāi Tūāhuriri that we will work together in developing our future Māori exhibits and that iwi will lead and inform how they tell their stories, relate their history and represent past and current Māori culture,” says Mr Wright.

The $195 million redevelopment project is needed to protect the Museum’s heritage buildings and the 2.3 million objects in the collection, and to bring the interior up to the standards expected of a fit-for-purpose twenty-first century museum.

Design options for the redevelopment will be shared with the public in the near future. Ideas under consideration would mean more of the Museum’s collection could be displayed, popular exhibits such as the blue whale skeleton could return and more storage would be created on the site. Currently, only 1% of the collection can be displayed at any one time and some of the items have never been on public view.

The Museum has met with a number of people who have previously expressed an interest in the Museum’s future.

“It’s really important that we listen to what people have to say about the future of the Museum. We will continue to meet with these groups, seek their feedback and ensure they are involved throughout the process until we lodge a resource consent later this year,” says Mr Wright.

Dame Anna Crighton, Chair of the Christchurch Heritage Charitable Trust, says the Museum Board has been extremely proactive in sharing its redevelopment plans and gaining feedback from the wider community.

“I was happy to be invited to participate in this process and share my views. With an open mind, I attended a presentation which I found to be reassuring and which did not repeat the mistakes of the past. 

“Not only will the listed heritage buildings be treated with respect and regarded as part of the Canterbury Museum collection, but architectural features will be highlighted and past violations of heritage fabric rectified. I now look forward to providing input into the initial design options.”

Professor Chris Kissling, Chair of Christchurch Civic Trust, says, “The Civic Trust appreciates being consulted. We do not wish differences of the past to inhibit achieving workable solutions for the future. The current site imposes considerable constraints, not the least of which are its heritage listed buildings.

“It is a challenge to the professionals involved to resolve conflicting visions in an acceptable way that can retain public support and be sustainable in the long-term. We agree that ignoring the needs of the museum is untenable as is any conversion of the adjacent Robert McDougall Art Gallery away from its original primary purpose,” says Professor Kissling.

Anthony Wrights says, “The feedback collected so far will guide the design process. We are committed to transparency, and as we progress our plans there will be more opportunities for people to have their say before any plans are finalised and submitted for resource consent.”

The public is invited to give their feedback and keep informed as the project progresses by going to the front page of the Museum website and clicking on the Need for Change tile.


  • Canterbury Museum comprises several buildings built between 1870 and 1995, which are an important part of its public identity. The nineteenth century Mountfort-designed buildings were earthquake strengthened in the 1990s and, as a result, are the only Gothic Revival buildings in the city that were not extensively damaged in the 2010/11 Canterbury earthquakes.
  • The Museum looks after worldwide collections of human and natural history, with a focus on Canterbury and the Antarctic. Many of the collections are nationally and internationally significant and include one of the most important international collections from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration and discovery. The Museum also houses a large collection of Ngāi Tahu taonga and cultural artefacts from the early days of Canterbury.
  • Canterbury Museum employs 90 people.
  • Planning for a major redevelopment of the Museum started in 2001 and was then costed at $46.8 million. The Ministry for Culture and Heritage had approved funding of $15.8 million over 6 years. Heritage advocates successfully appealed some aspects of this project to the Environment Court and it did not proceed.
  • Planning for a new $68.7 million project started in 2009. Development was to be phased over 4 years with major funding committed by the Museum and the four contributing Canterbury councils, with further funding sought from the Ministry. The project was due to be publicly launched in March 2011, but the major earthquake struck in the February.
  • Thanks to strengthening work in the 1980s and 1990s, the Museum buildings suffered relatively minor, but still millions of dollars of damage, in the earthquakes. In April 2012, the Museum was closed for 3 months, reopening in stages through to April 2013, while relatively low level earthquake repair work was carried out. All of the buildings have been assessed as exceeding the minimum requirement of 35% of the new Building Code Standard for buildings open to the public and containing contents valuable to the community.
  • Following the earthquakes, the Museum commissioned a range of technical reports on the current Museum buildings. The key finding was that most of the materials of the twentieth century buildings are at the end of, or well beyond, their useful life.
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