Zealandia Visitor Centre

Completion date
Cultural & Civic

Zealandia is the world’s first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary and the first facility fully dedicated to telling New Zealand’s unique conservation story. To provide a gateway to the many walks, talks, and exhibitions they offer, Zealandia required a new visitor centre. The building needed to house a functions/education space, an orientation/ticketing hall, a shop, an exhibition space, a cafe and support spaces for all of those functions.

The site was exceptionally challenging being bound on the east by an unstable hillside, on the west by an earthquake fault, and on the north by the existing road. These factors reduced the available land to only 300m2. The design brief required a building that referenced the existing symbols of the Sanctuary; the historic boatshed and valve tower. The building was to be lent back against the hillside, allowing these symbols to take centre stage. Thus views on approach favour the valve tower, only revealing the existence of the new visitor centre at the very last moment.

Responding to the unique characteristics of the site and the design brief, the building increases in size as it rises, using the slope of the land. However even given its scale, the building merges with the bush. The resulting design concept has been dubbed a ‘high-tech bivouac’. The leaning wall, very deep eaves and re-entrant forms, for example the cafe terrace, give a high level of articulation and visual interest.

Internally the design intent was to provide a very clear circulation pathway that continuously orientates visitors to the valve tower and the boatshed. The design team created dramatic spaces with an emphasis on clear views, both horizontally and vertically, to the spaces beyond. Thus from the entry you can see up through the triple height stair volume to the cafe terrace. The leaning wall gives this space a certain tension as one climbs the stair, heightening expectation of arrival at a very special place - the Sanctuary proper.

The flow through the building culminates at the cafe terrace where the visitor can pause and contemplate the view over the boatshed, valve tower and lake to the bush beyond.

In materials selection, the warmth of wood has been favoured to offset the exposed steel and concrete structure. The palette is limited but has been deployed to create a rich and warm interior. Detailing is crisp and precise with systems being repeated to reinforce consistency over the whole building.


  • NZIA Wellington Architecture Award 2010


  • Michael Gould

Other team members

Tim Hooson Principal Auckland, Wellington
Phone+64 9 367 0447 Mobile+64 21 623 225 Save Contact
Ana O'Connell Architecture
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