In November 2019, Auckland Museum celebrates its 90th year in the war memorial building in Auckland Domain.


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. 

An ink and watercolour drawing by the Auckland architectural practice Grierson, Aimer and Draffin. Grierson, Aimer and Draffin (1920s). Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tamaki Paenga Hira. PH-ALB.

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.

Part of Auckland War Memorial Museum's history is its name and evolution over time. Prior to 1996 it was known as the Auckland Institute and Museum, read more about that part of our history here.

View of the museum under construction, surrounded by scaffolding and cranes. 1920s. Auckland Museum Collection PH-ALB-458-2

Auckland War Memorial Museum under construction. Man standing by section of column lying sideways on a platform. Auckland Museum Collection PH-ALB-458-2

Opening of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. 28 November 1929. Auckland Museum Collection PH-NEG-C5787, PH-CNEG-C22449

Ceremony in front of the Cenotaph on the opening day of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. November 28 1929. Auckland Museum Collection PH-RES-1351

Re-opening of the Maori meeting house Hotunui on 29 November 1929. Maori party gathered in the Maori Court looking towards Hotunui, during the opening of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Maori war canoe TeToki a Tapiri in foreground. Auckland Museum Collection PH-RES-1353, PH-CNEG-C6133, PH-CNEG-C22450

Rajah the elephant returning to the Auckland War Memorial Museum at night. Auckland Museum Collection PH-RES-3392

Museum seen from Mechanics bay, with the Strand at bottom of hill. 1920s. Auckland Museum Collection PH-ALB-458-2

Work in progress on the new Hall of New Zealand Birds. 1972. Auckland Museum Collection PH-RES-1344

A living memorial

A living memorial

Almost a third of the 18,166 New Zealanders who died as a result of the First World War have no known graves; buried half a world away from their grieving families. Auckland War Memorial Museum was built by a community that needed a place to remember those who died.

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The founding and building of Auckland Museum

The founding and building of Auckland Museum

Auckland War Memorial Museum stands on the hill known by Māori as Pukekawa.

It has occupied this site since 1929 when subscriptions raised by Aucklanders in remembrance of their war dead and enabled the construction of what is considered one of New Zealand's finest heritage buildings.

To this day, Auckland War Memorial Museum is a touchstone of remembrance for families and returned service personnel who wish to honour their loved ones and fallen comrades.

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The Auckland Museum frieze: Scenes of war

The Auckland Museum frieze: Scenes of war

High up on the Museum exterior, resting just above the colonnade, and wrapping around the full building perimeter, is a beautiful decorative Doric entablature complete with architrave, frieze and cornice. Inspired by Ancient Greek temple architecture, and specifically the Parthenon in Athens, the Museum architects, Grierson Aimer and Draffin, carefully recreated an alternating pattern of metopes (decorated panels) and triglyphs (channelled stone). But instead of classical scenes, the carved stone panels show New Zealand armed forces in action.

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Looking to the future

Looking to the future

We're transforming your Museum to provide new experiences. Discover the plans and see the progress as the building evolves.

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