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The Heavy History behind QT Wellington

Jan 19, 2017  ·  3 min read

words by niall roeder

Museum Art Hotel Wellington, New Zealand’s most popular design hotel, is now a proud part of the QT Hotels & Resorts family. The evolution is complete and the newly branded QT Wellington (formerly QT Museum Wellington) has open doors and a killer art collection. And just like any notable artwork, the hotel has a rather intriguing story behind it.

Originally built as the Michael Fowler Hotel, the property shared its opening day with the stock market crash of ’87. In hindsight, this could’ve been seen as a sign of things to come, because one year later the New Zealand government snatched up the bargain property in a mortgagee sale with plans to build the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Despite a bad start and years of unprofitability, the early 90s saw the hotel’s fortune change for the better – the waterfront site started to turn a profit. However, the government had had enough. It was to be demolished… or was it?

Enter engineering nous.

The hotel was bought by Chris Parkin, renamed Museum Art Hotel Wellington and in a bold move, an engineering mate of Parkin, sorry, engineering genius, formulated a daring and seemingly bonkers plan to relocate the 3000 tonne, four-storey structure. Yes, they were going to move the hotel.

How does one “move” a hotel, exactly? Well, there were four solutions proposed and to the average non-engineering-minded Joe, they each sound equally outrageous. When moving a hotel, one can slide hotel on Teflon pads, float hotel on a film of high-pressure water, roll hotel on metal sheets and ball bearings, or throw the ol’ girl on train tracks and choo choo it into position. Weight and financial concerns stymied the first three options, so they went with the later.

The bogies, wheels, rails and steel beams needed to build a railway were scraped together and what would end up being the biggest operation of its kind ever undertaken in NZ, was put into motion.

Despite a fierce storm rolling in on relocation day, fear that the hotel’s weight would bust the wheels off the axles and the fact that the ground was sinking due to compacting for the new Te Papa site – the move was given the green light.

Ballsy… we like it.

After three months of preparation and with thousands of locals watching with bated breath, the 3000 tonne, four-storey building was shifted 120m at 5-10 metres an hour, over three days. Without damage.

The design-led QT Wellington now sits securely across from its old stomping ground and boasts a back-story to rival that of the contemporary New Zealand art on its walls.

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