In 1919, more than 70 architects from around the world entered a competition to design a new Museum for Auckland.
The building was first suggested by curator Thomas Cheeseman as the Museum outgrew its premises on Princes Street.
Three finalists were chosen, coincidentally all had served in ‘the great war’ and were all from Auckland.
Auckland firm Grierson, Aimer and Draffin won the competition with their neo-classical building reminiscent of Greco-Roman temples.
Auckland Museum Head of Documentary Heritage Catherine Hammond says Grierson, Aimer and Draffin won because “as an influential and young architectural practice of returned servicemen their scheme exemplified the spirit and ambition of the project”.
“Their grand design said Tāmaki Makaurau and its people matter,” she says.
Funded by the institute of British Architects, a 1,000 sterling was awarded to the firm. The architects, Hugh Grierson, Kenneth Aimer and Keith Draffin.
To help fund the building, Cheeseman sent a pamphlet out to Aucklanders requesting donations for the last 50,000 sterling required of the total 200,000. It said:
‘The time has come when the City and Province of Auckland feel that the duty which they owe to their fallen must be discharged. The question at issue is – will Auckland rise to the occasion? Will those generous citizens who have civic pride and patriotism at heart, lend their aid to make this memorial worthy of the “Queen City of the North.”’
The funding was received, in total and including interest it came to 238,770, and the war memorial building was completed in 1929 with just 279 pounds spare, which was used to commission the bronze wreath on the shrine in the hall of memories.
A separate subscription of 6,500 was raised for the cenotaph on the court of honour.
The cenotaph, which translates in Greek to empty tomb, was modelled on the original in Whitehall, London, to ‘recognise the bonds of the Empire’.
Authentic measured drawings of the Whitehall cenotaph were not available, so the architects used photographs and measurements taken by Aimer when he was in London.
The cenotaph was consecrated, and the new Auckland War Memorial Building was opened on 28 November 1929, with crowds of people in attendance (see image).
At the opening, the Museum was described as ‘A Majestic and Noble Tribute.’ Later, it was touted by the New Zealand News as ‘The greatest War Memorial in this hemisphere’. While the public loved the building, the architects were also awarded by their peers with a Gold Medal of the New Zealand Institute of Architects for the year 1929 for their work in designing the War Memorial and Museum in Auckland.
Thus, the Museum you see today stands on Pukekawa, with developments in the 1960s, the early 2000s, and now, as the Museum is transformed for future generations.