Women lead the way at Archives New Zealand building

Photo: Natalie Jaques (Warren and Mahoney), Laura Hebdon (RCP), Suchita Jain (RCP), Tessa Beetham (Aurecon) and Melissa Thompson (Warren and Mahoney) standing outside Archives Project.

It’s a fitting coincidence that the new Archives New Zealand building in Wellington will soon be linked by a bridge to the National Library which holds the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition.

The $250 million Archives project is being delivered by a largely female team of consultants – a first for many in the team.

Tessa Beetham from Aurecon is leading civil, geotechnical and structures; Melissa Thompson from Warren and Mahoney is the architect and consultant lead; Helen Ewing from RCP is the project manager for design; Suchita Jain from RCP is the project manager for construction; and Hayley Koerbin from NDY is leading the sustainability aspect of the project. Construction company LT McGuinness also has a large number of women working on site.

Tessa says the bridge linking the two buildings is a symbolic milestone.

“It’s like it’s been tied up with a bow, to have so many women working on this project that links those two buildings and houses that really important document that marks the success of the suffragette movement.”

The ten-storey building on Aitken St, designed by architects Warren & Mahoney and design agency Tihei, broke ground in February 2022 and is expected to open to the public in 2026.

It’s location in the Parliamentary area and the fact that it will house the country’s taonga and heritage have created many complex challenges for the team, Tessa says.

“The building is base isolated for seismic resilience. The fault line is only a few hundred meters away from the site, so it’s a pretty seismically active part of Wellington.

“They’re putting archives on five of the floors, which means it needs to be temperature controlled and humidity controlled with a high performing façade and lots of security requirements.

“There are a huge number of challenges and we’re doing a lot of things in the building that haven’t been done before. Even the shelving system is specifically tested to be resilient. The facade is bespoke and has never been done before.”

The structure is almost fully built with the final floor expected to be poured by before Christmas this year.

The project recently hit a major milestone when the 36 bearings that sit under each column and provide the base isolation were installed.

Tessa says the bearings were manufactured and tested in California, and they were the biggest bearings the firm had ever made. Each bearing had its own shipping container and the team tracked them on their journey around the world.

“It was a bit touch and go with all the shipping drama following COVID. Any project that’s big and complex, and when you’re pushing the envelope on how things are normally done, there will always be moments of stress.”

Tessa and the team are thankful to the client Dexus, the Department of Internal Affairs and Archives New Zealand for the opportunity to be involved in this iconic project.

She says it’s “very unusual” in her role with Aurecon to be working on a project with so many women.

“I can’t think of another project that I’ve ever been involved in that’s had this many women in leadership and design roles. It’s pretty common for me to find myself in a room with a bunch of men for sure.”

Showcasing projects like this with women in leading roles allows Tessa and the team to show other women what’s possible and challenge unconscious bias in the industry.

“In my view women will often hold back in their careers until they’re very competent and confident at what they’re doing before putting themselves forward for more challenging roles”

“So for leaders, if you have a women who says she’s capable of doing something, then she will probably be incredibly capable of doing that role.”

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