Concept designs for new tuatara enclosure at Queens Park unveiled

Concept designs for the home for Henry and his tuatara friends in Queens Park have been unveiled.

In June, Christchurch-based firm Studio 4 Architects came on board to design the new facility and have now delivered a first look at the tuatara space in the animal reserve.

The facility will include nine separate areas that have the capacity to house 21 tuatara, and an attached staff building that includes space for a bug station, hospital pen, and working space for Living Species Officers.

Visitors will be able to walk around the outside of the facility and view inside each of the enclosures. There is also a public viewing window to see when staff are doing health checks of the tuatara.

In February, the tuatara were moved from their original home in the current museum to a temporary location while geotechnical work took place on-site.
Studio 4 Director Matt Sloper said the project was an opportunity to design a facility that not only housed the tuatara, but also told the story of their history and connection to Southland.

“Based on the ancestral home of tuatara, an island has been formed to securely locate the enclosure and aid in telling the story of their homeland. Similarly, the enclosure shape is inspired by the spiny back of the tuatara and creates a sanctuary for the inhabitants and varied viewing opportunities for visitors.”

While the team had vast experience designing facilities for animals, it wasn’t without its challenges.

“With the enclosure and its important residents, the primary challenge is focused on providing a safe and secure facility. This cannot be compromised at any stage and requires careful attention to detail.

“Creating a new home for this precious taonga is a unique and special moment for which we feel extremely proud to be contributing to.

“Each facility we have designed has its own individual requirements that influence the final design outcome, however fundamental principles such as animal welfare and preservation commonly apply to them all.”

Sloper said he enjoyed realising the vision of Studio 4’s clients and stakeholders, to bring them a facility that matches the dream.

“We take pride in seeing projects exceed our client’s expectations and the wider community benefits they can bring.”

Invercargill City Council mana whenua representative Evelyn Cook said it was a well-designed facility.

“I am excited that the tuatara that we care for on behalf of Ngāti Koata and Te Atiawa, in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Council’s Parks team, will be able to live in a purpose-built, more natural appearing but secure environment.

“I hope the tamariki mokopuna of Waihōpai and their parents and caregivers will be able to see them basking in the sun or peeking from their burrows and celebrate our unique opportunity to have tuatara within Queens Park.

“The proposed design provides time to view what may or may not be happening with the tuatara, then pause to enjoy the area before continuing on to other activities in the park.”

Invercargill City Council Manager Parks Performance Kate Gough said the designs looked better than she could have imagined and encompassed everything needed to keep the tuatara happy and safe.

“The Studio 4 team has put a lot of work into researching wild tuatara habitats and have come up with a really beautiful-looking enclosure that fits in well with the natural environment of Queens Park and emulates how they would live in the wild.

“I am so happy the community will soon be able to see Henry and his friends once again as I know they have been widely missed.”

Gough said the facility would provide a safe and secure home for the tuatara that would also follow the animal husbandry guidelines.

Council Programme Director Lee Butcher said the Studio 4 team had gone above and beyond with their design.

“This design is a great addition to our award-winning park and another big step forward for Project 1225.”

The site establishment would begin in the latter half of August, which would cause little disruption to the rest of the park operations, Butcher said.

“This will be one of the country’s first fully open-aired public viewing facilities that will meet all the needs of the husbandry guidelines that are currently being modernised.”

Visitors would still be able to see the other animals while construction was under way.

“The animals in the reserve will not be impacted by the construction, however, some will be moved to other areas so they are not disturbed.”

Ground breaking will begin at the beginning of September and the enclosure is expected to be completed in April 2024.

The construction of the new tuatara enclosure is part of Project 1225, the city’s museum rebuild project, which also includes the construction of the Tisbury storage facility and museum rebuild.

For the latest information on Project 1225, visit