Parliament House

New Zealand Parliament Grounds, 1 Molesworth Street and 1 Museum Street, Pipitea, WELLINGTON


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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.

Parliament House, Wellington. CC Licence 4.0 Image courtesy of | Michal Klajban | 01/01/2015 | Michal Klajban - Wikimedia Commons
Parliament House, Wellington. CCL 2.0 Image courtesy of | Ulrich Lange, Bochum, Germany | 20/03/2010 | Ulrich Lange - Wikimedia Commons
Parliament House, Wellington. Interior – Debating Chamber. Image courtesy of | Lighting Futures Ltd
Parliament House and Old Government House, Wellington. c.1928. CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of Archives New Zealand reference: AAQT 6403 2003A | Archives New Zealand



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Able to Visit

List Number


Date Entered

7th July 1989

Date of Effect

7th July 1989

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Sec 1 SO 38114 (RT 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).

Legal description

Sec 1 SO 38114 (RT 10240), Wellington Land District

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