Te Papa Museum’s interactive & immersive environment

Story: Derek Powell

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa, for short) is a constantly evolving institution, charged with presenting and exploring the heritage of the nation’s cultures and knowledge of the natural environment. As part of its evolution, the museum has completed a total rebuild of the zone devoted to the natural environment. The new $12m permanent exhibition: Te Taiao | Nature, is the result of a three-year design and build project and is replete with more than three times the audiovisual technology of the old Nature zone. 

Te Papa’s in-house technology team designed and installed the innovative audiovisual systems that engage the visitors as they travel through the zone. Audiovisual Manager Andrew Bruce recalled the design process: “What we tend to do is have some real key pieces; or ‘king hit’ pieces, with a real wow factor,” he noted. There’s plenty of wow factor in the exhibits and artefacts themselves: from recreations of extinct birds to a real (pickled) colossal squid and even an immersive earthquake experience – but with a total of 18 high powered laser projectors in the zone, projected images are a key element.”


Just inside the entrance is another of the ‘king hit’ pieces, a four metre high, portrait-format curved screen invites guests to feed their life force or ‘Mauri’ into the exhibition. As visitors work together by placing their hands on the carved wooden touchstone, the on-screen content expands and becomes richer and fuller. 

As visitors touch the carving, a subwoofer hidden inside vibrates to provide tactile feedback and a backlight illuminates to help them learn how to operate the interactive. There are no buttons apparent on the centrepiece; instead the AV team placed sensors behind tiny holes in the carved surface. Each touch sends UDP commands from a BrightSign player into the computer to manipulate the content. Birds appear in the sky and blue whales are added to the ocean as people working together help rectify the climate. 

The massive image is created by a single 10,000-lumen Panasonic projector hidden out of sight above a display cabinet opposite. Altogether, a further seven experiences use projection systems in the Te Taiao | Nature exhibit. All of these projection systems include bespoke and custom designed mounting solutions which include clever access considerations for maintenance of the projectors.