Last week it was announced in the Christchurch Press that the Ravenscar Trust, a charitable trust founded by Jim and Dr Susan Wakefield, would display its extensive New Zealand art collection in a purpose built museum to be built on Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch. This is an amazing gift to the City of Christchurch and the country and an opportunity for the public to see a wide selection of contemporary art in one place and in context with their original surroundings.

Canterbury Museum will own the Ravenscar House Museum and operate it jointly with the Trust, while the collection will remain owned by the Trust. Christchurch City Council, which owns the preferred site at 52 Rolleston Avenue, will consult the community on whether to gift the land to the Museum in perpetuity.

The Wakefields began collecting art in the early 1990s. Their collections were previously housed in a Trust-owned property in Scarborough, Christchurch, which was extensively damaged in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. The Trust will use a combination of its own funds and its earthquake insurance settlement with IAG to build the $13 million development.

“We think the Rolleston Avenue site is the best available in central Christchurch for our house museum concept. The design, by award-winning architect Andrew Patterson, together with the scale and landscaping of the building are sympathetic to the surrounding two and three-storey heritage buildings,” says Dr Wakefield.

To be known as Ravenscar House, it will be New Zealand’s first contemporary house museum and will be comparable to 19th and 20th century house museums including Olveston in Dunedin, and Highwic and Alberton in Auckland. As a contemporary house museum it will compare favourably with international examples such as the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice and the Dali Castle in Spain amongst others.

The Ravenscar Collection consists of New Zealand pieces, approximately 300 paintings and objects in total including antiquities brought to New Zealand by immigrants over the years. In a sequence of period “rooms” visitors will be able to see the collection displayed as they would have originally been shown in grand homes of the period. Covering the mid-19th century to the present day the collection will be totally unique and is arguably the most important collection outside public museums of New Zealand heritage.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel says she is thrilled by the generosity of the Ravenscar Trust. “It really is a very special gesture. The Wakefields lost their home in the earthquakes and are opting to replace it in a way that will be of enormous benefit to the city. The Council will make a final decision on gifting the land, currently used as a car park, once we have received feedback from residents and other interested parties.”

The museum is designed by internationally-recognised architect Andrew Patterson. The cladding is stone and concrete, with the stone an amalgam of the rubble of Christchurch, small pieces of brick and stone and Port Hills rock fused together, ground and polished and coated to give the whole façade a faint lustre. “It is designed to be in synergy with the heritage precinct around it”.