The Treaty House is New Zealand's most-visited historic building. It is administered by the Waitangi National Trust Board. The house began life in 1833 as British Resident James Busby's house. In 1932 Governor-General Lord Bledisloe gifted it to the nation. The house and grounds have been the focus of Waitangi Day events since 1934.
The house was very run down when Governor-General Lord Bledisloe and his wife bought it. The Waitangi National Trust Board, formed in 1932, hired leading architects William Gummer and William Page to restore the place. The centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi was looming, so there was a desire to recreate the building as it had been in 1840. Inadequate historical research led to an architectural avalanche overwhelming the house; the restored building was almost entirely new. The burial of so much of the material of the past brought a different feel to the place. The old Busby house emerged as the Treaty House, surrounded by the trappings of nationhood - formal grounds, cannon and flagpoles.
By the 1960s and 1970s many experts questioned what had been done. This time the Waitangi National Trust Board commissioned historical research. After making some minor changes, it hired conservation architect Clive Lucas in 1988 to prepare a thorough conservation plan. Lucas recommended presenting the house as it appeared during the Busby family period (1840-60). This enabled the trust to display the original prefabricated house inside the 1930s creation. Whatever some critics thought of it, this had by now become an icon, reflecting the national aspirations of an earlier generation. In the words of one heritage expert, 'the house was to be put in touch with 1840, yet the words of 1933 would not be eaten'.
In recent decades the trust board has changed the interpretation of the house. Today visitors reach the house after viewing a slide show at an elaborate visitor centre and shop. Inside the house they can see the historic skillion (rear lean-to) presented in gutted form, protected by a covered space at the rear of the building. Special plinths and signs describe the original surviving fabric. Elsewhere wall notices and panels tell the story. The south wing contains a small museum, and in the late 1990s the northern wing was altered to provide space for the 20th-century story of the place and its guardians. Like our understanding of the Treaty itself, the old building continues to evolve.