The gallery was completed in September of 1999 to mark the Queen Victoria centennial; it measures 330 square metres and houses a great variety of continually changing collections.
The site chosen for the Adam Art Gallery is the Culliford staircase, built in the mid-sixties to a plan by Ian Reynolds: it was intended to connect various campus buildings, but was later abandoned for safety reasons.
When the faculty of art history moved into the nearby Old Kirk Building, it was proposed that the staircase could be incorporated into a new exhibition space.
Victoria University held a competition for the design of the gallery in 1996, inviting three New Zealand architectural practices to participate: Architectus, Pete Bossley and Athfield Architects.
The panel of assessors, which included Jenny Harper, head of the department of art history, Paul Walker, architectural historian, and David Mitchell, the architect who designed the City Gallery in Auckland, chose Ian Athfield's proposal.