He Tohu Document Room

He Tohu Document Room

He Tohu Document Room

He Tohu is the new permanent exhibition of Aotearoa New Zealands’ iconic constitutional documents, housed at the National Library in Wellington. The new document room holds and protects these taonga, or sacred objects. The kaupapa, or meaning, of He Tohu’s brief, as expressed by the architects is; He whakapapa kōrero, he whenua kura: talking about our past, to create a better future.

The key design driver was the creation of a place where all New Zealanders can stand and reflect on the multiple narratives and meanings of each taonga. He Tohu is presented by the ongoing partnership between Archives New Zealand and the National Library of New Zealand.

The space has been developed in close collaboration between these two parties. All three documents are highly sensitive to light, humidity, and temperature.

The technical requirements to create a space that supported state-of-the-art conservation, as well as meeting fire safety and security requirements had to be successfully balanced with the creation of a space that allows people to engage intimately with the taonga for the next 25 years.

PrefabNZ case studies "How to prefab" includes He Tohu Document Room, download the case study here

CNC routed external panel


He Tohu is located within the serene atmosphere of the National Library of New Zealand, and its extensive collection of documents that could not be affected by the build. Through the duration of construction the Library required limited noise and disruption. Structural limitations of the existing building and a stairway access to site restricted the weight and size of construction elements. In response the design adopted custom sized timber blocks that were scheduled for transportation and installation based on weight and size restrictions.

He Tohu Document Room entrance


The document room was conceived from the idea of a waka huia, a timber treasure box. The curvilinear timber space was created to encourage a sense of touch, to enable a level of connectivity between place and events. The result provides an internal environment that delivers the technical needs for preservation, as well as creating a spiritual resonance that connects visitors emotionally to the documents.

Internal shell assembly


The completed components were individually labelled and wrapped before they were delivered, by truck, to site. The internal wall blocks were assembled in layers and dowelled together with 0.5mm tolerances to allow the rimu to naturally move over time.

The ceiling panels were provided with three-dimensional coordinates for each corner. The units were hoisted into position using this data and hung by threaded rods for accurate adjustment and braced using tension wires.

Rimu blocks form internal shell


Studio Pacific Architecture utilised modern technologies, along with the skills of the contractors, to achieve the design intent. Digital prefabrication allowed for higher accuracy of the bespoke elements and enabled the realisation of the unique form. The construction methodology ensured that the functional aspects, technical considerations, and the complex issue of services integration were achieved as design drivers.

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