How Auckland Museum's sustainability journey began on the rooftop

by Ken Downie / 23 May, 2019
Photography by Ken Downie
john glen auckland museum solar panel

John Glen on the roof of the Auckland War Memorial Museum; there are 189 solar panels installed on the eastern and western sides of the roof.

Auckland War Memorial Museum’s John Glen hits the roof.

John Glen looks out over the vast configuration of pipes, ducts, solar panels and other technological paraphernalia that colonise the Auckland War Memorial Museum’s rooftop. “These systems keep the living building breathing,” says Glen, the museum’s head of building infrastructure, who runs occasional guided rooftop tours. “And that helps care for and preserve the taonga within.”

The imposing landmark was built in three stages: the original neo-classical front section opened in 1929 as a memorial to World War I and blends aesthetically with the second section, constructed in 1960 as a memorial to World War II.

The third section, the Grand Atrium, was completed in 2006 and increased the overall footprint of the building by 60% – its copper and glass dome sits high above the rear of the museum like a giant stingray.

john glen auckland museum solar panel

John Glen on the roof of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, above recently restored decorative skylights at the front of the building.

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Until recently, these buildings were highly dysfunctional, says Glen, who has a background in energy management. “It was only about seven years ago we began seriously reducing our carbon footprint from 1856 tonnes to 970 tonnes, knocking $400,000 off the power and gas bill every year.” But it’s getting those three difficult structures to work together so successfully that makes him proudest.

Today, it’s one of the most sustainable museums in the world, using a range of energy conservation techniques, including recycling the same air in the building at night, using a wider band of temperature and humidity controls through heating and cooling, and planning energy usage around specific visitor numbers. “It’s not just the solar panels; they are the icing on the cake.”

The museum has undergone a major restoration since the 1990s, including earthquake strengthening; the ongoing process of meticulously maintaining a building of such enormous proportions is also immense.

“It’s like restoring a classic car,” says Glen, who hopes to hold rooftop tours on a regular basis in the near future (aucklandmuseum.com). “So far, we’ve mainly done school groups. It’s great showing kids how a sustainable building really works.”

This article was first published in the April 2019 issue of North & South.

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