New Zealand Parliament Grounds, 1 Molesworth Street And 1 Museum Street, Pipitea, Wellington
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Able to Visit
20th July 1989
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes part of the land described as Sec 1 SO 38114 (CT 10240), Wellington Land District and the building known as Parliament House thereon, including the grounds. (Refer to the extent map tabled at the Heritage List / Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 12 November 2015).
Sec 1 SO 38114 (CT 10240), Wellington Land District
Parliament House is the symbolic heart of government in New Zealand, the centre of the political life of the country, and the focus of political celebration and protest. The catalyst for construction of the building was, however, entirely apolitical.
In December 1907, less than three months after New Zealand was proclaimed a Dominion, the timber portions of an earlier Parliament Buildings were destroyed by a fire. Although the loss of the debating chambers and offices was regretted, their destruction presented the Government with the opportunity to erect a building better suited to contemporary needs, and to celebrate and express through architecture the country's rise in constitutional status from Colony to Dominion (an independent nation state within the British Empire).
To achieve these objectives, the then Liberal Government decided that construction of a new Parliament House should be part of a larger scheme to build a unified suite of governmental buildings in permanent materials. Included in this grand scheme was to be a new museum (to replace the timber Colonial Museum building then located adjacent to parliament), new government offices for the public service (to replace the timber Government Buildings on Lambton Quay), and an entirely new Parliament House. The vision of a unified governmental complex was to be realised in piecemeal fashion; its centre-piece and the first and only part of the scheme to be constructed was Parliament House.
In 1911 a competition was held for design of the building, won by the then Government Architect, John Campbell (1857-1942) and one of his staff, Claude Paton (1881-1953). Campbell entered a further competition entry with a former staff member, Charles Lawrence. This design was placed fourth in the competition. Following the competition, a final scheme was produced by Campbell and Paton combining the floor plan of the fourth-placed competition entry with the elevations of the first.
Throughout the design process Campbell and Paton envisaged a monumental stone-clad building in the Edwardian Baroque style - a style which aligned the political fortunes of the young Dominion with the British Crown. The style derives from English Baroque architecture of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, which was promoted by architects of Campbell's generation as uniquely English and characteristically imperial.
From the very beginning it had been decided that just over half of the proposed building would be constructed; it was anticipated that the remainder would be built when further space was required and resources allowed. By the time the foundation stone was laid in 1912, the Government had made further cost-cutting measures: a central dome, statuary and cupola were omitted from the plans.
Outbreak of the First World War slowed progress on construction and when, in 1918, the House of Representatives was first used it was dedicated as a memorial to those who had lost their lives in the war. Erection of the first half of the building was completed in 1922, and completion of the remaining portion of Campbell and Paton's design has been mooted several times since. However, construction of the Beehive on the site intended for the remaining wing of the building precludes completion of the original scheme, campaigns to shift the Beehive notwithstanding.
Even in its incomplete form the building is a monumental example of Edwardian Baroque architecture, emphatically British and imperial. The Speaker's Room is lined with Canadian bird's eye maple and walnut gifted to New Zealand by the Government of Canada 'to bond the Dominions'. A distinctly New Zealand inflection is discernible in the building nevertheless; the east and west elevations were faced with New Zealand stone (Coromandel Granite and Kairuru marble) and mainly South Island rimu was used for interior joinery. However, only in the Maori Affairs Committee Room, modelled on a whare runanga, was there any overt architectural expression of Maori engagement in the processes of political decision-making.
Between 1991 and 1996 extensive work was undertaken to strengthen the building, conserve historic fabric and better meet the needs of a modern New Zealand parliament. The most significant features of the 1922 building were retained, and new elements introduced. Among them is a new and more prominent Maori Affairs Committee room; its inclusion ensures that the building better reflects contemporary commitment to a bicultural partnership.
Left incomplete, though carefully conserved, Parliament House is the most monumental Baroque building in New Zealand, and one of the earliest and most successful of a group of Baroque legislative buildings constructed in various parts of the former British Empire, including Alberta, New Delhi and Canberra. Its architecture asserts the strength of New Zealand's allegiance to the Crown in the early twentieth century more emphatically than any other governmental building in the country, while the monumentality and scale of the building hints at a growing political confidence in the development of New Zealand as a nation in its own right.
The failure of vision which resulted in the abandonment of the original scheme is now evident in the development of a parliamentary complex that, contrary to the Liberal Government's intentions, has little aesthetic or architectural coherence. But despite this development, the fabric of Parliament House documents significant aspects of the evolution of our political history: the rise in status from Colony to Dominion; the growth, in more recent times, of a commitment to biculturalism; the nation's contribution to war efforts, the move to a unicameral system of government (the building includes a chamber for the former Legislative Council, abolished in 1951) and to MMP (requiring an increase in seating in the House of Representatives). With the exception of the years of the building's refurbishment (1991-1996), all legislation has been debated in the building since 1918. It has been the centre of the political lives and achievement of generations of New Zealand politicians, and the focus of public attention on the country's political processes and decision-making for over eighty years.
Historical Significance or Value
John Campbell produced sketch plans for a new Parliament House in 1908: one for the restoration of the old Parliament House in the Gothic idiom and another for the construction of new Parliament House in the classical idiom. The sketch plans provided a rallying point for those architects and politicians who argued that a competition should be held for the design of a new building.
However, when the conditions of the competition were made available in February 1911 they fuelled rather than dampened the controversy over the buildings. They differed in two important ways from competition regulations formulated by the Royal Institute of British Architects and adopted, in slightly modified form, by the New Zealand Institute.
(1) Although RIBA regulations stated that the name of the assessor should be announced in the original advertisements for a competition the government refused to disclose who the judge of New Zealand's competition would be.
(2) RIBA regulations stated that:
"no Promoter of a Competition, and no assessor engaged upon
it, nor any employee of either, shall compete OR ASSIST A
COMPETITOR, or act as Architect, or joint Architect, for the
Thus Campbell and other State employees should have been excluded from the competition.
Protest against the competition conditions was led by Samuel Hurst Seager, lecturer at Canterbury College. The Government refused to alter the competition conditions and much to the chagrin of the Institute Campbell entered, apparently producing one entry with Claude Paton and another with Charles Lawrence.
The furore over the competition was the first test of the cohesion of the New Zealand Institute of Architects as a national body. Formed just six years before the competition, the NZIA was an affiliation of various local associations. Six architects in fact resigned their membership of the Institute over the competition and Campbell's membership also lapsed.
There is a combination in the Parliament House of all the functions of Parliament and those of a centre of administration. When the main building was planned provision was made for a number of Ministerial Rooms as well as chambers and offices of Parliament. This relieved congestion in the old wooden Government Buildings on Lambton Quay with the transfer of the Ministry occurring between 1918 and 1922.
Different aspects of New Zealand's Parliamentary history are recorded in the physical structure of Parliament House. One of the most significant parts of this history relates to the Legislative Council and its abolition. The former Legislative Council Chamber is now used exclusively for the formal openings of Parliament, but until 1950 it was the place where the members of the Legislative Council, the Upper House of the General Assembly, met.
The history of the Legislative Council's abolition itself provides an interesting background to the role of this room. S G Holland's private members' bill, entitled the Legislative Council Abolition Bill, was introduced into Parliament in 1947 and precipitated the adoption of the Statute of Westminster. In Britain, at the same time, an Act was passed giving New Zealand full powers to amend its constitution. Though Holland's bill was lost in 1947, he wasted no time in addressing the issue again in 1949 when he came into power. A further Legislative Council Abolition Bill was introduced, this time in the Council, and was passed by both Houses coming into force in 1951, making New Zealand into one of the very few democracies with a single chamber legislature. The Old Legislative Council Chamber remains as a reminder of the earlier bicameral era.
The building of Parliament House also coincided with the disintegration of the Liberal Party, so that after 1919 (until 1936 when the National Party was formed) members of the Coalition Reform and National Political Federation sat in this house. The Labour PArty was not formed until July 1916 (to unite the two parties and independents representing Labour in the house) - thus the history of Parliament House is inextricably connected to the history of our present two main political parties. Twenty-two ministries have been associated with Parliament Buildings to date. Some of the outstanding events have been the appearance of women in Parliament (1933) and the broadcasting of proceedings and Royal opening in 1954.
The competition for the design of a new Parliament House held in 1911 was arguably the single most important architectural event in New Zealand in the early twentieth century. Its importance lies in both its political ramifications within the architectural profession in New Zealand and the nature and quality of the designs produced.
Architectural Significance of the Design:
The design which was built is an amalgam of the one created by Campbell and Paton and the other created by Campbell and Lawrence. It is entirely in keeping with the architectural thinking of the period.
The other competition designs make it clear that by 1911 the Imperial Baroque style of the design was accepted as the most suitable for Parliament Buildings. The Otago Daily Times reported that only two of the competition entries were in the Gothic idiom. Those designs were presumably George Troup and William Gray Young's fifth placed entry with its central tower and entrance porch modelled on Giles Gilbert Scott's Liverpool Cathedral (begun in 1903), and Alex Douglas Spier's unplaced design which has a long Gothic range enlivened by towers, and inspired by the Palace of Westminster. The preponderance of Imperial Baroque designs testifies to the influence of architectural journals and overseas experience in spreading that style to New Zealand as well as the appropriateness of Campbell's choice of style.
Campbell's Baroque design is therefore indicative of the state of New Zealand architecture.
By architectural reference to the great Imperial Baroque architecture of Wren and Hawksmoor Campbell alludes to the British origins of New Zealand's system of Government. His design is also comparable with other Parliament Houses erected throughout the British Empire.
Situated on 'the hill', the marble clad facade of Parliament House has a long ancestry which takes in many of the classical Parliament Houses of the world. In fact its ancestry stretches back to the Acropolis. Together with the French influence in the design (evident in the Beaux-Arts axial planning and the similarities between the main elevation and the design of the East Front of the Louvre) the siting of the building on 'the hill' emphasise New Zealand's commitment to democracy, if not the republicanism of ancient Greece or modern France. It makes a very impressive statement in the streetscape and certainly is a landmark in Wellington. It is well-known to all New Zealanders.
John Campbell (1857-1942) served his articles under John Gordon (c1835-1912) in Glasgow. He arrived in Dunedin in 1882 and after a brief period as a draughtsman with Mason and Wales joined the Dunedin branch of the Public Works Department in 1883. His first known work, an unbuilt design for the Dunedin Railway Station, reveals an early interest in Baroque architecture.
In November 1888 Campbell was transferred to Wellington where in 1889 he took up the position of draughtsman in charge of the Public Buildings Division of the Public Works Department.
He remained in charge of the design of government buildings throughout New Zealand until his retirement in 1922, becoming in 1909 the first person to hold the position of Government Architect. Government architecture designed under his aegis evidences a change in style from Queen Anne to Edwardian Baroque. His best-known Queen Anne design is the Dunedin Police Station (1895-8), modelled on Richard Norman Shaw's New Scotland Yard (1887-90). Among his most exuberant Edwardian Baroque buildings is the Public Trust Office, Wellington (1905-09). Although Campbell designed the Dunedin Law Courts (1899-1902) in the Gothic style with a Scottish Baronial inflection, he established Edwardian Baroque as the government style for police stations, courthouses and post offices throughout New Zealand. In 1911 Campbell won the nation-wide architectural competition for the design of Parliament Buildings, Wellington. Although only partially completed, Parliament House is the crowning achievement of Campbell's career.
ARCHITECT/ENGINEER OR DESIGNER:
Although Parliament House is attributed to John Campbell and Claude Ernest Paton their authorship is in fact uncertain. It was designed in 1911 in response to an architectural competition organised by the Government after the substantial timber portions of the former Parliament Buildings burnt down in 1907.
W F C Vine, an architectural cadet under Campbell, believes that the first prize in the competition was 'won by Claud [sic] Paton in conjunction with A Stevenson, but owing to certain regulations, etc, the design had to be entered in the name of J Campbell and C Paton.'
The evidence supporting this statement is, at first reading, compelling. The Public Works Department contract drawings for Parliament House are registered in Paton and Stevenson's names. Although the drawings are signed by a large number of architects and draftsmen none bear Campbell's signature. Alan Stevenson and Claude Paton were friends outside the office and were therefore likely to have worked together in creating competition entries.
However, such evidence is not conclusive. There were no regulations which would have precluded Stevenson entering the design in his own name. Although the contract drawings are registered in Paton and Stevenson's names this does not necessarily indicate that the winning competition entry itself was their work.
Whoever created the winning design, Campbell assumed responsibility for construction of the building when Public Works Department employees won the competition. His name is inscribed on the building's foundation stone and he is described as its architect in government publications. The design that was partially erected is, as Vine notes, a combination of both those entered in Campbell's name.
ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION (STYLE):
The portion of Parliament House which was erected consists of two end pavilions with a colonnade in between.
Campbell's two competition entries provided the basis for this design. The plan of the fourth placed entry by Campbell and Lawrence was used, but the facades were those designed for the first placed entry (with some minor modifications).
The ornamentation and the design as a whole is inspired by modern Imperial Baroque buildings. It is unlikely that Campbell had any one model in mind for the entire structure. However, his use of a colonnade, set between centre and end pavilions, invites comparison with Claude Perrault's East Front of the Louvre, Paris, 1667-70, which had inspired Sir John Burnet's Edward VII Galleries of the British Museum, London, 1904-14. The central ribbed dome which caps the tall drum included in the original design looks back to James Gibbs' Radcliffe Camera, Oxford, which had inspired works such as John Belcher's Ashton Memorial, Williamson Park, 1904-9. In a more general sense the bold architectural massing of pavilions is reminiscent of Hawksmoor and the intended construction of a central dome over a building which incorporates a colonnade recalls the work of Wren. The rustication is also characteristic of Vanbrugh's designs. Campbell's choice of the Imperial Baroque style, believed by contemporary architects to be the national style of Britain, is emblematic of New Zealand's allegiance to the Crown and her membership of the British Empire.
The architectural grandeur of the building reflects the political determination to erect a building worthy of a young dominion. The new building 'rose from the ashes' of the former timber Parliament Buildings destroyed the same year that New Zealand was proclaimed a dominion. Thus they commemorate New Zealand's attainment of independent nationhood within the British Empire.
However, the design has no peculiarly New Zealand character except that which is imparted by the use of New Zealand stone to clad two of its facades. All of its architectural sources and references are British. This reflects, perhaps, both the state of public architecture in New Zealand and the strength of the dominion's political ties with the Mother Country during the second decade of the twentieth century.
Modifications to Parliament House have been made to the interiors of some rooms and additional accommodation has been provided by erecting attic storeys. Minor modifications have been made throughout the building's history. In 1955, for example, restoration work on the Maori Committee Room (first opened in 1922) was completed. During the Second World War temporary additions were made to accommodate the Prime Minister's Department and the External Affairs Department.
A company called Modus Lighting created a bespoke lighting solution for Parliament in the early 1990s designing the fitting and importing special Venetian glass for the bowls. in 2016, again after considerable development, upgraded the heritage fittings to the latest generation LED reducing the energy and maintenance costs by 75%.
The House of Representatives was first occupied in 1918
1991 - 1996
Major renovations and strengthening (base isolators)
The building was designed
1912 - 1922
Construction began in 1912 and was completed in 1922
13th March 2002
Report Written By
Alexander Turnbull Library
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington
MS Papers 1331, Folder 1, New Zealand Ministry of Works Collection.
Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)
Archives New Zealand (Wellington)
PWD 22537. W1, 24/26 Part O.
Cochran, 1989 (2)
Chris Cochran and Rod Cook, Parliamentary Library, Parliament House: Conservation Values, April 1989
Rod Cook, Parliament: The Land and Buildings from 1840, Wellington 1988
Grey River Argus
Grey River Argus
New Zealand Parliamentary Debates
New Zealand Parliamentary Debates
Vol 143, 145, 1908 and Vol 156, 1911
New Zealand Institute of Architects Journal
New Zealand Institute of Architects Journal (NZIA)
The New Zealand Institute of Architects Journal of Proceedings, Vol 1, No 1, April 1912.
Otago Daily Times
Otago Daily Times
Parliamentary Service Commission, 1996
Parliamentary Service Commission, To House Parliament: The Construction, Strengthening and Refurbishment of Parliament Buildings, Wellington, New Zealand, Wellington 1996
Peter Richardson, 'Building the Dominion: Government Architecture in New Zealand 1840-1922', PhD thesis, University of Canterbury, 1997
Victoria University of Wellington
Victoria University of Wellington
'NZIA' Minute Book '2' 1911-15, Vol 3.
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.