The NZ Liberation Museum - Te Arawhata is a visitor experience retelling the story of Kiwi soldiers liberating the French town of Le Quesnoy in the final days of World War I.
Wētā Workshop collaborated with The NZ Memorial Museum Trust – Le Quesnoy to bring the experience to life. Our location-based experience team were involved through all stages of the project design and build, from initiating the blue-sky concept, through to research and design development, content production, manufacture, install, and commissioning.
Utilizing dramatic storytelling, sculptural artworks, and immersive soundscapes the experience connects visitors to the events of that dramatic day of liberation. Housed in a refurbished mansion, guests are free to explore at their own pace, forging a personal connection with the overarching themes of freedom, friendship, and the future.
The challenge Wētā Workshop faced was how to bridge the gap between the modern world and the events of more than a century ago. Our location-based experiences team wanted guests to not only learn about the liberation but connect with the people who were there in 1918. To achieve this, the team crafted a multi-sensory experience that engages guests on an emotional level.
“In the days surrounding the liberation, photographs were taken that give us an insight into the French civilians, New Zealand soldiers, and surrendered Germans at the time. It is through the lens of Henry Armitage Sanders that we get an insight to the humanity and context of the people that made this liberation story so memorable and impactful.” – Andrew Thomas, Senior Creative Director, Wētā Workshop.
The room of views uses black and white photography to portray the events of Le Quesnoy’s liberation. The large-scale photographs allow the viewer to get up close and personal, revealing every intricate detail. Guests witness soldiers in relatable moments: cooking, reading letters from home, taking a moment to relax, or enjoying a cigarette.
These carefully curated images piece together a larger tapestry of the activities and people involved in the Le Quesnoy liberation story. It's a powerful opportunity to connect with the real faces and places behind this extraordinary narrative.
The story of the liberation is an incredible one. Kiwi soldiers used one single ladder to storm the town, which they climbed one-at-a-time to liberate its citizens and capture the German occupiers.
Te Arawhata, which translates to ‘the ladder’ in English, sits at the heart of the building, located within the main staircase. The translucent piece of art runs through the centre of the main staircase, accompanying visitors as they ascend. In this case, the ascent is symbolic of not only the ladders used for liberation but also climbing to higher knowledge and understanding.
Georgia McNeill is Wētā Workshop’s Lead Designer on the project. She employed lighting throughout the design which acts as a transformative and transitional device as guests move through building. “From the beginning of the project, darkness and lightness inspired us. Photographs from the time show the beautiful play of light through the trees that surrounded the ramparts and town. Contrasting this, was the darkness of the cold winter and autumn nights endured by the soldiers.”
Andrew Thomas worked with designer Rehua Wilson to develop the Te Arawhata Sculpture. The translucent and reflective materiality of the sculpture plays with the natural and artificial lighting within the stairwell, creating reflected and refracted light illuminating areas of the walls in a dynamic and beautiful way. This emanating of light evokes a sense of life, and energy in the space.
As guests journey through the museum, they will encounter a larger-than-life, 2.4:1 scale, hyper-realistic sculpture of a New Zealand Rifle Brigade Soldier. Caught in a moment of profound reflection following the liberation, he rests on a cobblestone footpath, his rifle placed gently by his side.
Wētā Workshop CEO and Creative Director, Richard Taylor, says, “playing with scale allows visitors to get up close to the hyper-realistic soldier, placing them in that significant moment which took place over 100 years ago.”
The cinematic realism of the soldier is complemented by an emotive soundscape and moving historical quotes are projected on the wall beside the soldier. These quotes offer deep insight into the emotions and sentiments that filled the hearts of those present in the moments after the town's liberation.
An intimate and immersive sensory experience. Surrounded by acoustic panels, comfortable seating, and soft lighting, guests will be enveloped in a soundscape woven from diaries, letters, postcards, and journalism of the era. Performed by voice actors, they offer a greater connection to the people involved in the liberation, letting you hear their own words and emotions regarding the occupation and liberation of Le Quesnoy.
By drawing upon a range of elements to engage guests’ senses, the experience helps visitors connect with this moment in the past. It was built on the foundations of freedom, friendship, and the importance of learning from the past to support a better future for all.
The NZ Liberation Museum - Te Arawhata opened on 11th of October 2023. Learn more about this museum and immerse yourself in the incredible experience at www.nzliberationmuseum.com.