Parliament Grounds

  • The Parliamentary Precinct Heritage Area gives its name to the area occupied by the collection of parliamentary buildings and associated grounds and features, together with the nearby Government Buildings, Cenotaph and Waititi Landing Park. It is one of the most important historic precincts in the country.

    The Government Reserve was established in 1840, the year Wellington was founded, and it has been the centre of national government since 1865, when the capital shifted from Auckland to Wellington. In that time, the reserve expanded with the acquisition of adjoining private land and a number of buildings have come and gone. Today the oldest remaining structure at Parliament is an addition to the original General Assembly Library built in 1883. The two oldest Parliamentary buildings are the Parliamentary Library (1899-1901) and Parliament Buildings (1907-1922). They are joined within the reserve by the Executive Wing or ‘Beehive’, (1969-1984), as well as statuary, landscaping, lawns, paths, roads, walls, gates and plantings. 

    Lambton Quay divides the area between Government Buildings and Parliament. There have been long historical and physical links between the two places, beginning in 1873 when it was decided to build Government Buildings on land reclaimed in front of Parliament from spoil excavated from Parliament grounds. Government Buildings is the oldest building within the heritage area and was completed in 1876 and once housed the entire Wellington-based civil service.

    Also within the area are two other significant items. One is the Cenotaph, Wellington’s war memorial, built on the corner of Bowen Street and Lambton Quay in 1929 and dedicated in 1932. The other is Waititi Landing Park, a small triangle of land on the corner of Molesworth Street and Lambton Quay that commemorates a significant waka landing site for tangata whenua. 

  • close Physical Description
    • Setting close

      The key characteristics of this area’s setting are the relatively low scale of the buildings (distinctive in an area which is rapidly becoming dominated by high-rise construction) and the spaciousness associated with the extensive landscaping, plantings and green areas around the major buildings. The streets around the area create a definitive, physical border and help separate the formality of the older state buildings from nearby buildings. Any large buildings are located on the other sides of streets (such as Bowen Street) or sufficiently far away not to crowd the major buildings of the heritage area. 

      This area has several significant wider settings. To the east and south the flat of the reclaimed land stretches away from Government Buildings towards the harbour, the Supreme Court and the larger buildings of the CBD. To the north and north-east is the Government Centre, dominated by such prominent buildings such as Kate Sheppard Apartments, Vogel House, the National Library and St Paul’s Cathedral. To the west is the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Bolton Street Cemetery, the motorway, residential Thorndon and Tinakori Hill, which has been a conspicuous backdrop to this area since the town was established. 

    • Streetscape or Landscape close

      Not available

    • Contents and Extent close

      The extent of the heritage area is shown in the District Plan, Chapter 21, Appendix 15.

      The heritage area encompasses the Parliamentary buildings and grounds, including the key heritage buildings – Parliament House, the Parliamentary Library and the Executive Wing or Beehive, along with the numerous features, including statuary, that are contained within the grounds, and the extensive landscaping, which was begun after fire destroyed most of the Parliament Buildings in 1907 and was finished in 1912. It also includes the nearby Cenotaph and Waititi Park, and extends across Lambton Quay to include the Government Buildings and land and features associated with that complex. 

      The area is bordered by Hill, Molesworth and Bunny Streets, Bowen and Whitmore Streets and Stout Street and terminates at the western edge of the park space formerly occupied by Broadcasting House.

      At the rear of the Parliamentary buildings, the boundary line is drawn along the common property line to the adjoining state service buildings and incorporates the entirety of Museum Street and the sculpture park on the site of the former Broadcasting House.  This will enable any future development of the present car-park to be managed in a way that does not adversely affect the heritage values of the area.

    • Buildings close

      Parliamentary Library

      The Parliamentary Library is the most important building designed by the prolific local architect Thomas Turnbull. The Gothic Revival design is a response to the preceding Parliament buildings lost to the 1907 fire. The Library is elevated with respect to Parliament House and physically separated from it by a walkway.

      Completed in 1901, the Parliamentary Library is a substantial two-storey masonry building constructed using Mount Cook gaol bricks (with the distinctive arrow mark) and finished in plaster render over wire lathing. It is designed in a distinctive late-Victorian Gothic Revival style with a strong Venetian influence apparent in the detailing and is infused with the characteristic and picturesque irregularity of profile of the style. While the finished building is a full storey short of Turnbull’s original design, and has a weaker vertical emphasis than intended due to this lesser height, it is nevertheless a very carefully composed and strong piece of architecture and is commonly regarded as Turnbull’s finest work, although the architect himself repudiated any association with the building.

      As it stands today, the building is two storeys high, with an L-shaped front elevation and two distinct roofs, both hipped but set behind heavily detailed and prominent gables. There is a distinct vertical emphasis in the heights of the windows and in the arches over the entrance portico that signals a taller building - as a consequence the building seems a little squat. The high gables on the north (front) and west (Hill Street) elevations indicate something of the intended vertical emphasis. The elevations are replete with typical Victorian Gothic motifs including pointed arches, crocketed gables, steeply-pitched corrugated-iron roofs trimmed with ornamental ironwork at the ridges and a battery of chimneys, and rose windows in the gables. The roof edges are trimmed with a prominent arcaded balustrade, spanning between elaborate moulded pinnacles at each corner of the main façades and at each side of the gables. The east and south façades have extensively moulded external plasterwork with raised, indented or tooled patterns (pargetting) and are set off with strong cornice lines – an acanthus frieze below the roof-top balustrade and an egg and dart pattern at the top of the ground floor – which provide a horizontal contrast to the predominant verticality of the design. The ground floor windows are square-headed, while those on the first floor are set into pointed arches. Both sets of windows have well-defined label moulds.

      The composition of the façades is regular but notably asymmetric and each elevation of the building presents a different arrangement of parts to view. The principal façade faces out to the east and contains the main entrance, set in a flat-roofed single-storey porch arcaded with pointed arches, which is reached up a long flight of steps from the forecourt past a substantial rose garden and the awkwardly placed modern entrance to the subterranean car-park. The secondary elevation faces Parliament House, and views of it are substantially constricted by the close proximity of that building. A modern precast concrete and glass bridge connects the Library to Parliament House on this side. The tertiary elevation is to Hill Street; this falls partly below the rising street towards the west, giving passers-by an opportunity to better appreciate the complex roof-scape and intricate detailing of the building.

      At the west the building opens out to a modern landscaped area including large lawns (the roof to the car-parking area below) and features a modern steel loading dock which reproduces the general form of a former cast-iron pavilion.

      The building is particularly notable for its complex exterior and interior detailing and the extensive and elaborate ornamentation applied inside and out (particularly in the main foyer), all clearly designed to impress the visitor. The interior is a remarkable example of high Victorian hierarchy of ornament and decorum. Elements of note include the cast iron stairway with its ornate decorative work, ceilings which repeat the Gothic foliate capitals of the interior and exterior columns, fine cabinet work, and the high faceted glazed dome over the main circulation space which has been designed to take full advantage of natural light.

      Recently restored, the Parliamentary Library retains a high level of exterior and interior authenticity and high overall heritage values. It makes a significant contribution to the heritage values of the parliamentary precinct as a whole.

      Parliament Buildings

      Parliament House is a substantial edifice designed in a somewhat spare Edwardian version of the Beaux-Arts Baroque style that was popular at the time for important civic buildings in the British Empire and which reflected both the strong ties of New Zealand to Great Britain and a desire to identify with English models of law and government. The work of the Government Architect John Campbell and his assistant Claude Patton, the building as it stands today is about half of that originally planned. The original 1911 design included a second wing symmetrical with the first, a grand dome surmounting the entrance lobby and lesser domes over the end pavilions.

      As completed, the form of the building is distinctively asymmetric, an impression strongly enhanced by the adjacent Beehive, and is set out, on the main eastern elevation in the form of two pavilions linked with a loggia, with the bulk of the building contained in wings behind the eastern and northern façades. The larger southern pavilion is the main entrance and contains the main foyer of the building; the smaller northern pavilion is the architectural stop-end to the building. The exterior walls of both pavilions are rusticated in contrast to the plain ashlar work of the loggia between them.

      The English influence is apparent in the detail work including the use of giant order columns, exaggerated rusticated stonework, quoins, voissoirs, keystones, broken and open-bedded pediments, and festoons. The principal architectural device of the building is the giant-order Ionic columns, which form the double-height open portico at the main entry, continue along the loggia and end attached to the northern pavilion, there set in pairs flanking deeply-recessed arched windows and elaborate wreathings.

      The main floor of the building is elevated above the forecourt on a deeply-rusticated plinth; square-headed windows with prominent keystones tie in to the base moulding at the floor level. It is accessed from the forecourt by one of the best-known stairs in New Zealand which rises over a segmental-arched bridge. Above this are two principal floors capped by a heavy console-bracketed cornice and surmounted by a parapet and a minor level which is part of the composition of the two pavilions but is recessed back from the parapet line between the pavilions.

      The fine materials used in the construction of Parliament House are characterised by the Coromandel granite and specially-quarried Kairuru marble on the exterior, the rich grey colours adding to the formal qualities of the building, and the vast quantity of the best native timbers on display in the interior.

      The Beehive

      Completed in 1980 to the singular design of prominent English architect Sir Basil Spence, this eccentric building, known formally as the Executive Wing and rather better by its eponymous form, is one of the most recognisable buildings in the country.

      Infamously originated on the back of a napkin, the design of the Beehive defies a straightforward stylistic description. In architectural terms it is not a successful building: its cone shape does not relate in scale or form to John Campbell’s neighbouring Parliament Building of 1911, and there is something essentially graceless and squat about its detail and proportions.

      The 72 m high building is a stepped conical mass consisting of a total of ten floors above ground, and four below, built on a concrete primary structure surrounding a central cylindrical service core. The bulk of the building oversails a large, predominantly single-storey, rectangular plinth rising from the forecourt level and is capped by a tall central flagpole.

      The plinth, featureless to the east, is faced in white marble panels and brings the double-height principal floor of the Beehive more or less to level with that of the adjacent Parliament House, to which the Beehive is connected with enclosed bridges at two levels. At the rear of the complex, the plinth is stepped up to include an additional floor of offices and has extensive glazing; a new security entrance has recently been constructed at the north-west corner. At Bowen Street, there is a secondary entrance (now redundant) at street level into the Executive Wing.

      The main bulk of the building is given character by the tall main floor which has a continuous curtain wall recessed back from the perimeter of the building and surrounded by an open arcade of 30 structural fins intended to resonate with the proportions of the adjoining Parliament House; this detail is amplified in the subsequent stories which are fully glazed and have pre-cast concrete fins at every mullion line, and further elaborated in the prominent rounded two-tier cap covered in weathered standing-seam copper which has discrete panels of large vertical fins shading windows at the upper level. The building contains the National Civil Defence Centre in a stoutly-reinforced basement and the terminus of the conveyor-belt link to Bowen House.

      Various modern changes have affected the plinth, most recently a security lobby installed in the gap between the Beehive and Parliament House, but the building otherwise retains its original appearance.

      Internally, the Beehive is notable for the peculiarities engendered by its radial plan, particularly evident in the principal public spaces. As David Kernohan remarks, ‘The building exhibits many of the problems inherent in a circular building with oddly-shaped spaces requiring custom-designed furniture and fittings. The central lift lobby is wholly disorientating, and the banqueting hall has the unusual quality that only the Prime Minister can see all his or her guests.’

      The building has recently undergone a major internal upgrade to remedy some of the intrinsic deficiencies in wayfinding and the use of space generated by the original design.

      Government Buildings

      The timber Government Buildings were completed to the design of Colonial Architect William Clayton in 1876. Intended to house the entire Civil Service, and Parliament for part of the year, the building was constructed on reclaimed land downhill from the Parliament buildings.

      Clayton originally intended the building to be constructed in masonry, and he designed it in a formal Palladian neo-Classical style with traditional design and materials reflecting the importance of its purpose and its intended permanence. While the parsimonious government of the day soon had the building’s construction changed to timber to reduce costs, Clayton’s detailing remained much as for the intended masonry building. This gives the building its distinctive appearance today.

      Four stories high, Government Buildings has an H-shaped plan with a central wing. The building is symmetrical around its central wing, with corridors running centrally along each wing with offices on either side. There are two major staircases where the section portion meets the north and south wings. The building  has seven portico’d entrances, 22 replica chimney stacks (false, as they no longer serve fireplaces) and matching balconies overlooking the rear courtyard. It is notable for the extent and richness of its finishing details, including the re-created complex roof-scape of chimneys and acroteria above the pitched corrugated iron roof, the distinctive cladding with its prominent quoined corners and rustications, the Doric porches and the regular vertical pattern of the windows. 

      The building’s style has been described as Italian Renaissance. It is characterised by the different treatment of the fenestration on each floor, from arched windows, to pedimented windows, to square headed windows on the third and top floors. Timber details are applied to these openings, as well as to the porticos and the eaves, in a Classically correct manner. Quoin blocks at the corners are worked in timber, while each floor is emphasised with a string course and the roof line with a bracketed cornice. The whole effect is one of dignity and repose.

      The ground floor of the building is set as the plinth, with deep rustications to the cladding and arched windows with prominent moulded architraves springing off a string course line; “keystones” to the arches join to a cornice line at the first floor. Further string courses divide the succeeding floors and provide a horizontal contrast to the predominant vertical emphasis of the building created by the pattern of windows. The first floor windows have triangular pediments on corbels, those of the second floor have flat pediments on corbels and the third floor windows have plain architraves, but are set against the eave which has closely-spaced console blocks adding considerable texture to the building. A further interesting design feature are the curved window bays in the corners of the H.

      The piles, originally totara, are now concrete. All structural framing is Tasmanian hardwood (now augmented with pinus radiata), while weatherboards, flooring and finishing timbers are kauri. There is great technical interest in the construction of the building, with 19th century carpentry techniques evident in all parts of the structure and in finishing work. There are two vaults that reach from the basement to the top floor at the conjunction of the wings and central portion. Internal surfaces, including the walls of the vaults, are lined with lath and plaster or manufactured sheet linings. The 1994-96 restoration also reinstated fireplaces and various decorative features long missing from the building.

      As it stands today, the building is shorn of the many outbuildings that had accreted over the many years of government service and has been refitted for use by the Victoria University Law School, including a new octagonal lecture theatre and courtyard constructed at the rear of the building which crams the space around the main building and detracts somewhat from it.

      The Government Buildings are complemented by generous grounds which include a number of features of interest, particularly the restored timber fence on the east side of the site which is particularly notable for the (replica) carved lion-head gates and the monumental plastered masonry fence and gate posts around the other boundaries (and the huge lamps set on top of the front gate), the marks recording New Zealand’s first standard surveyor’s chain and sculptures including a memorial to Fraser.

    • Structures and Features close


      The Cenotaph is an elegantly-designed memorial building composed as plinth and obelisk and finished in a Moderne style with a concrete structure clad in high quality finishing materials, including granite, marble and bronze. It is oriented to the north, with the rear elevation facing Bowen Street.

      The obelisk has a stepped and tapered form which is surmounted by the rampant equestrian bronze. The flat-roofed single-storey plinth, which has a granite base and marble walls, is the same width as the obelisk but has thin wings extending to either side, and has a lightly stepped parapet concealing the roof. The north elevation of the plinth has a pair of central bronze doors, given emphasis with large flanking piers and deep jambs, letting on to the internal chamber. The walls of the wings are decorated with large bas-relief panels and the entire top perimeter of the plinth is decorated with commemorative plaques.

      The terraced forecourt is laid out symmetrically on the building and features a pair of bronze lions on the low walls flanking the principal central steps. The concrete and asphalt forecourt extends to the boundary fence of the Parliamentary complex and is finished with a rather dated swirling1980s landscape design that bears little relationship to the formal elegance of the building itself or its proximity to Parliament. A small toilet block further up Bowen Street provides a necessary relief point for Anzac Day and other commemorative ceremonies. Pohutukawa along Bowen Street block views of the plinth and obscure many of the commemorative plaques.

    • Other Features close

      Waititi Landing site

      This park is today occupied by a simple arrangement of landscape and sculptural features. A path bisects the triangularly shaped piece of ground and passes between two 6.3-metre pouwhenua (boundary markers), designed by Te Atiawa sculptor Ra  Vincent. The design of the pouwhenua shows two figures, depicting the people of the land they stand on, and a kowhai design on the other side represents the wairua (spirit of the land) from which they emerge.

      Open spaces

      One of the special features of the precinct is the extent of open space around the buildings. The high proportion of open space to built area and the relatively low scale of the buildings imparts a special character to the precinct, reinforced by the great quantity of mature trees and plantings. This use of the land enhances the status of both the buildings and the area as a whole and effectively sets the area apart from the intensive commercial development on Lambton Quay and beyond.

      The precinct illustrates both the early landform of and the subsequent development of the northern end of Wellington City. It reflects the early growth patterns of the city and the use of reclamation to expand the available flat land in the central city area, a process initiated and substantially carried out by the government.

      The open space surrounding and adjoining the heritage buildings are significant places in their own right and contain items of considerable aesthetic value. At Parliament these include the Ballance and Seddon statues and the Cook Bicentenary memorial plaque.  The boundary wall and gates, although – in part – relatively recently reconstructed and refurbished, provides continuity of visual definition to this nationally important public open space. Likewise the granite-faced low retaining walls and raised planters, although relatively recent additions, are now an integral part of this space. The pohutukawa trees, although not native to Wellington, add considerably to the sense of place.

      At the rear of Parliament the boundary walls and retaining walls , while not all individually listed heritage items, are an integral part of the heritage value of the precinct.  Much of the formal landscaping is relatively new, but other planting, comprising principally native trees, can be considered of heritage value, as it constitutes a series of important seams and buffers of rounded greenness which provide shade and convey a sense of permanence to the area.

      The Cenotaph has a wider setting that is only fully realised at formal events such as Anzac Day commemorations. At such times the area nearby, including adjacent Lambton Quay, is full of people, illustrating the importance of its wider social and historical context. 

      Government Buildings’ boundary fence and wall dates from the early 1900s and is of heritage significance, as is the Fraser statue in front of the main entrance. The remaining cabbage trees also date from the early 1900s. The planted exotics and natives have been in place for over 40 years and can now be considered significant landscape features. The latest plantings, although interesting for their diversity, have only been in place since 1996.

      The Parliamentary Precinct has a high ratio of open space to buildings in comparison with the surrounding, predominantly high-rise commercial development. It comprises essentially four discrete open spaces:

      (1)                 The Parliamentary Forecourt and grassed open space

      (2)                 The Cenotaph, Waititi Landing Park and Lambton Quay

      (3)                 The parking and green open space area to the west of the Parliamentary Buildings

      (4)                 The space surrounding the Government buildings

      Because of their purpose, history, uniqueness and siting, the three Parliamentary Buildings (comprising Parliament itself, the Executive Wing and the Library) anchor and dominate the open space surrounding them. The Cenotaph and Waititi Landing Park, because they are at the foot of the hill-slope, and, therefore, below the “Parliamentary Rise”, are further separated from the rise by large-scale, predominantly evergreen trees. They are also immediately adjacent to busy roads and intersections, and therefore they relate more directly to the streetscape.

      The Government Building and its surrounding space is very much an island contained by streets. It is also fenced along its entire boundary and, therefore, it is effectively segregated from the other three open spaces by this and the width of the intervening streets.

      The four open spaces, in addition to being discrete, are also distinctive, each being an entity unto itself.

      Parliamentary forecourt

      This comprises two sub-spaces:

      • The sloping predominantly grassed and planted area ascending the “Parliamentary Rise”
      • The contrasting level and paved forecourt proper immediately in front of Parliament and the Executive Wing

      The former, in addition to passive use, also provides for paved vehicular and pedestrian access to the forecourt, and an elevated paved court in front of the Library, together with a carpark beneath Parliament.

      The latter is semi-formal and ceremonial comprising the main steps to Parliament and the axial relationship of the Seddon Statue, surrounding paving and steps directly opposite.

      The Cenotaph and Waititi Landing Park

      Although both spaces are in stark contrast to each other in purpose and design, they are linked in a sense by their own historic underpinning. In physical terms they are also linked by a paved pedestrian area with seating and mature trees. The Cenotaph and its immediate precinct is a ceremonial space designed for congregating and remembering. The Waititi Landing Park, on the other hand, is very much a corridor framed symmetrically by the two large concrete pouwhenua; a corridor to slowly move through and pause to read the plaque.

      West of the Parliamentary Buildings

      The space to the west of the Parliamentary Buildings is the most busy and discordant. Most of it is hard-surfaced for parking and manoeuvring and this space is dominated by vehicle use, an aspect further emphasised by access to three underground carparks. 

      This dominance is somewhat countered at the northern end by the sloping grassed and planted open space, culminating in the trees growing on the steep bank below Hill Street and the two tiered, semi-formal grassed courts at the rear of the Library. The somewhat incongruous mounded sculpture park on the former Broadcasting House site is the only significant area of grass at the southern end of this space.

      A strong seam of native vegetation on the retained slope below the Executive Wing along the Bowen Street frontage links this area in lineal terms with the native planting leading down to the rear of the Cenotaph.

      Government Buildings

      The Government Buildings are surrounded in their entirety by paving for vehicular access and parking. There is a margin of grass and planting between the paving and the boundary, dissected by various vehicular and pedestrian access points and there are areas of grass and planting immediately surrounding the building, divided by entry points to the building.

      Landscape Elements

      These elements comprise surfacing, built items and what could be termed soft landscape including trees, shrubs, cover-plants and grass. Not all have heritage or potential value, but some clearly do. They are inventoried under the four open spaces as described above.

      The Parliamentary Forecourt

      The landscape elements comprise:

      • Distinctive plastered and exposed aggregate panel masonry wall which surrounds the site
      • Modular concrete paving and pre cast concrete kerbs used throughout
      • Granite-faced walls and raised planters
      • Seating
      • Sloping grassed areas
      • Large-scale specimen trees in grass
      • Specimen ti-kouka (cabbage trees) in the granite-faced raised planters directly in front of Parliament
      • Large-scale peripheral trees along the Molesworth Street frontage
      • Mass planting of a limited range of NZ native plants beneath the peripheral trees
      • Sloping beds of predominantly roses, flaxes and cover planting on the bank separating the forecourt to the Library (higher level) and the forecourt to Parliament Building and the Executive Wing (lower level).

      The Cenotaph, Waititi Landing Park and Lambton Quay

      The landscape elements comprise:

      • Insitu and precast concrete paving surrounding the Cenotaph
      • Circular precast concrete paving slabs and asphaltic concrete infill, between the Cenotaph and Waititi Landing Park
      • The pou-whenua and simulated boardwalk at Waititi Landing Park
      • Native cover planting on low mounds following the curved intersection of Lambton Quay and Molesworth Street
      • Seating
      • Annual bedding plants and some low ornamental shrubs associated with the Cenotaph
      • Massed native trees on the slope leading up to the forecourt in front of the Executive Wing and continuing on the edge of the footpath at the northern extremity of Lambton Quay
      • Exotic deciduous trees giving meaning to the circular paving pattern referred to under the second bullet point
      • The broad swathe of asphalt along Lambton Quay

      Area to the West of the Parliamentary Buildings

      The landscape elements comprise:

      • New extensions to the exposed aggregate panel and plastered masonry wall to the same design as surrounding the Parliamentary forecourt
      • Realigned Museum Street paved with modular concrete pavers
      • Wall along the rear of Parliament
      • Retaining walls and steps separating the tiered and grassed courtyards at the rear of the Library
      • Grassed and mounded sculpture Park
      • Recently planted English oak in new circular planter at the head of Museum Street
      • Mature English oak in sunken bed behind Parliament
      • Massed native planting and grassed slope separating upper level carpark at northern end of site from main carpark
      • Massed native trees on slope below Hill Street, together with some lower level planting

      Government Buildings

      The landscape elements comprise:

      • The surrounding fence comprising wrought iron panels surmounting a plastered masonry wall
      • High horizontally ribbed concrete wing walls on each side of ornate lions head arched gateways signifying the two pedestrian entrances to the recently constructed hexagonal lecture theatre, from Stout Street
      • Asphaltic concrete paving to carpark and manoeuvring areas
      • Modular concrete paving strips signifying points of pedestrian access to doorways at the rear of the hexagonal lecture theatre
      • Seating
      • A diverse range of planting including:

      -    2 kauri trees formally placed in the grass on each side of the main entry

      -    red-flowering gums within the lawn on the north-west side of the building

      -    kowhai within the lawn to the north-east of the building

      -    continuous mixed native trees and shrubs along the Stout Street frontage

      -    fairly continuous mixed native shrubs used as foundation planting

      • assorted native shrubs along the Whitmore Street frontage

  • close Historic Context
    • The present parliamentary buildings occupy land that has been a prime site since the arrival of Europeans and the establishment of Wellington. Designated the Government Reserve in 1840, it was chosen as the site of the residence of Colonel William Wakefield, the first leader of the Wellington settlement and was the seat of provincial administration for the following 25 years. The reserve was then a small rise just a short distance up from the beach. Known Maori use of the site was limited to cultivation but, as it was regarded as a ‘swampy clay mound’, it was considered of little use for that either.

      Wakefield’s house was an imported prefabricated dwelling which was later occupied by the first provincial governor, Lieutenant-Governor Eyre of New Munster, who took up his position in 1845. Also built within the boundaries of the reserve, to the consternation of other churches, was the first St Paul’s Anglican Church (1844). It occupied a site that is today on the west side of Museum Street opposite the rear entry to the Beehive basement, and remained there until Old St Paul’s was built in 1866. On the corner of Charlotte (now Molesworth) Street and Lambton Quay, just before the beach, was a raupo whare, used by celebrated pioneer Richard Barrett as his first grog shop. Today this site is occupied by Waititi Landing Park. On the other side of Charlotte Street was the site of Barrett’s second hostelry, later used as government offices.

      The General Assembly and land expansion

      The Government Reserve was initially confined to the area bounded by Kumutoto (later Bowen) Street, Charlotte (later Molesworth) Street, Hill Street and the back boundary of the reserve, later Museum Street. The area soon expanded beyond this with the purchase of land on the north side of Sydney Street (sections 528 and 529, and later 530) in the 1850s. This additional land was used to build the first permanent chambers for the Wellington Provincial Council in 1857. In 1865, this Gothic-designed building was purchased by the government for Parliament, which relocated from Auckland, where it was originally established in 1854. The Provincial Council moved to a new building on reclaimed land at Customhouse Quay. By 1867, there were 74 MPs in total, including four new Maori seats.

      The ‘new’ Parliament Buildings was immediately extended by the addition of a library, and over the course of a nine -year period there were many more additions, mostly designed by Colonial Architect William Clayton and all maintaining the Gothic form of the original structure. The work culminated in the completion of the Legislative Chamber in 1874.

      In 1865, land was purchased from Edward Daniell (town acres 504 and 505) on the western boundary of the reserve. Section 504 was allocated to the Colonial Museum, and it included a house for its first director James Hector. Section 505, originally named Lawrence Street for a New Zealand Company director, was later renamed Museum Street. The street still exists, although it was not always in its present position; it was a short distance to the west until 1912.

      In 1871, Wakefield’s original dwelling, which had been used as Government House from 1865, was replaced by a large house also designed by Clayton and it remained the home of governors-general until 1907. 

      About 1870, more land between Sydney Street and Hill Street (town acres 526 and 527, on the north-west boundary) was purchased. In 1873, these sections were excavated to create more flat land on the site, leaving enough land for a path, which still exists, down from Hill Street. The spoil from this excavation was used for the reclamation to the east soon to be occupied by Government Buildings.The latter’s completion in 1876 coincided with the abolition of provincial government, which left central government as the single legislative authority.

      Other buildings constructed during the 19th century include stables near the Kumutoto (later Bowen) Street boundary, a power generating station on Sydney Street, a guard room on Charlotte Street and a weather station near Hill Street. 

      A new library

      In 1883 the first masonry building was erected at Parliament, to a design by Thomas Turnbull, who had assisted Clayton when he worked on the General Assembly buildings. Initially intended to be an addition to the library it was soon converted into Bellamy’s.The following decade, Turnbull was commissioned to design a new library on land adjoining Hill Street, in front of the previous addition. His design was in a Gothic style complementary to the timber parliamentary complex, but this time in rendered brick. Work began in 1897, but to save money the government reduced the building from three to two stories in height, to the great dismay of the architect who had his name struck from the foundation stone in protest. It was completed by the Government Architect, John Campbell. For all that, many regard it as Turnbull’s finest building.

      The great fire

      The new library was separated from the General Assembly building by fire walls and doors. This foresight saved most of the library after a huge fire on 11 December 1907 destroyed the entire timber portion of the General Assembly bar the brick chimneys. The 1883 addition was gutted, but the walls stood. The library was eventually repaired and restored but the fire completely disrupted parliamentary business. Government House was taken over by Parliament and converted for use as a chambers, Bellamy’s and offices, so temporary accommodation in Palmerston North was found for the Governor-General. A long bridge connected the library with Government House, while work continued on below.

      The first matter put in hand was the redesign and landscaping of the grounds. As part of the redevelopment, it was decided to close Sydney Street and amalgamate the site. Completed about 1912, the subsequent landscaping work forms the basis of the appearance of the grounds today. Later, land on the southern boundary, including the triangular section on the corner of Molesworth Street and Lambton Quay and land alongside Bowen Street, was given to the city for street widening.

      In February 1911 Prime Minister Joseph Ward announced that a design competition would be held for a new Parliament House. Only designs from New Zealand architects were sought. There were 33 entries received and the sole judge was Colonel Vernon, former Government Architect for New South Wales. The competition was won, somewhat controversially, by Government Architect John Campbell and his assistant Claude Paton, who were considered to be ineligible to enter by many other architects.

      Permission to begin work on the new building was reluctantly given by Prime Minister William Massey in 1912, but he refused to allow construction of the domes and ornamentation on the grounds of cost. Progress was slow due to a shortage of materials and manpower, partly because of the intervention of World War I in 1914. MPs were desperate to leave Government House, so the chamber was first used in 1918, four years before the building was formally handed over, although the entire south wing, as well as the domes, had not been completed. They were never built, although various concepts for completing the building were raised over the ensuing 80 years.  

      Other 20th century changes

      In 1951, the upper house or Legislative Council, was abolished, leaving that space unused except for ceremonial events. During the 20th century the land at the rear of the buildings, and its uses, changed considerably. The Colonial Museum was demolished after the completion of the National Museum on a new site on Mt Cook in 1936. With the removal of the museum, new buildings were constructed (and later extended) for an off-shoot of the museum, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). These were subsequently demolished for various state buildings, including Bowen State Building, Charles Fergusson Building and Broadcasting House (itself demolished in 1995). Buildings behind the General Assembly Library, begun in 1914 and extended in 1941, were occupied by the Public Works Department. Today, with the exception of the park that occupies the site of Broadcasting House, this part of the heritage area is used entirely for carparking.

      The Beehive

      In 1962, planning began on the next substantial addition to the site. Completion of the south wing of Parliament Buildings was briefly considered in 1951 but abandoned. Eventually the decision was made to build a landmark modern building. Sir Basil Spence, a Scottish architect made famous by his work on Coventry Cathedral, was engaged to prepare designs in 1963. His sketch plans – for a ‘beehive’ shaped building – were prepared the following year and turned into working drawings by the Ministry of Works’ architects. The site chosen for the new building was that occupied by the former Government House, still standing 118 years after it was completed, but in a very poor state. The building was demolished, save a portion to the west, which was used as a site office for the new building, and then demolished. ‘The Beehive’, as it became known, took a long time to build and it was not until 1979 that the building was occupied; it was formally completed in 1981.

      Restoration and renewal

      By the early 1990s the two older parliamentary buildings were in need of considerable deferred maintenance and earthquake strengthening. The government decided to undertake a major refurbishment and restoration. Work began in 1992 on what remains the biggest heritage conservation project ever undertaken in New Zealand. With the Beehive over-extended and Mixed Member Proportional government on its way, it was decided to lease a significant amount of space across the road in the new Bowen House building, build a temporary debating chamber and link it back to the Beehive via an underground conveyor belt. Opposition parties were installed in this building, with the Beehive and much of Parliament Buildings eventually reserved for the government. Considerable parliamentary use of Bowen House is still made today.

      The cost of the work was approximately $175 million and hundreds of people were engaged on the work, with over 400 employed on the site alone. Parliament Buildings’ interior was considerably revamped, with many new halls and offices formed. The building was strengthened by cutting it from its foundations and separating it from the ground with the use of 417 base isolators of rubber, steel and lead. Walls were reinforced, and new wings were built. The library was less altered. Its exterior was largely returned to its 1901 appearance with replacement exterior chimneys and decorative elements, and repair and reinstatement work undertaken to showcase its glorious Victorian interior. At the rear of the building a steel loading dock was built to imitate a pavilion that once stood on the site and lawns and gardens were constructed over a carpark and additional parliamentary offices. Queen Elizabeth II opened the complex in November 1995, and the first sitting of the House was held in February 1996.

      In 1997 a proposal was mooted to move the Beehive to the site of the former Broadcasting House, with a view to completing the original design of the Parliament Buildings. This was soon abandoned as impractical and since then work has focussed on upgrading the existing building to improve wayfinding, the lifts and the office accommodation. Additions and alterations works were completed in 2006 to provide additional space and security screening facilities.

      A history of the grounds

      The buildings are complemented by extensive landscaped grounds laid out following the 1907 fire and the removal of Sydney Street. Prior to this, the grounds on each side of Sydney Street were laid out in typically formal 19th century fashion, with lawns, fences and hedges, paths and drives. There are a few features of interest within the grounds dating from the period prior to the rebuildings of Parliament Buildings. There is an old oak tree behind Parliament Buildings (on the Museum Street boundary), which dates from the 1860s. Two Norfolk pines on the front lawn probably date from the early 1900s. There are fences on the Hill Street boundary, retaining walls, the path from Hill Street to the rear of Parliament Buildings and the statue of John Ballance (1897).

      The grounds have evolved considerably since the layout was completed.  Trees – predominantly pohutukawa – have grown and there have been other alterations driven by changes of use; there is now much more ‘hard’ landscaping mainly to accommodate formal ceremonies and vehicular traffic. Nevertheless, while the original landform has been altered over the years, the original plan has remained generally unchanged. An important feature of the front area is the driveway, still in its original form, as are the masonry and iron fence and the steel gates. 

      There are many other landscape features of note including the statue of Premier Richard Seddon (1915), a bicentennial memorial to Cook and a wide assortment of street furniture.  Also of interest is the rose garden below the Parliamentary Library. On either side of the steps are white camellias (a symbol of the women’s suffrage movement in New Zealand), named after the famous New Zealand suffragist Kate Sheppard, who also has a nearby street named for her. At the foot of the steps there is a plaque that commemorates the centennial of women's suffrage, in 1893.

  • close Cultural Value
    • Significance Summary close

      Not assessed

    • Aesthetic Valueclose
      The Parliamentary Precinct heritage area is one of the most important historic precincts in the country. It is the centre of government for New Zealand, and has become both a national and international landmark. The status of the heritage area, and its role in central government contributes to the character and sense of place of Wellington as New Zealand’s capital city. The heritage area is made up of a group of individually listed buildings and objects that include the magnificent timber Italianate Government Buildings (1876), Gothic Parliamentary Library (1889-1901), Edwardian Baroque Parliament House (1912 – 1921), Executive Wing or “Beehive” (1965 – 1981), Ballance, Seddon and Fraser statues, and the Cenotaph or “Wellington Citizens’ War Memorial” (1929). Many of these individual buildings and objects are local, national and international landmarks, and contribute to its character and sense of place of the heritage area. One of the special features of the precinct is the extent of open space around the buildings. The high proportion of open-space to built-area and the relatively low scale of the buildings imparts a special character to the precinct, reinforced by the great quantity of mature trees and plantings. This use of the land enhances the status of both the buildings and the area as a whole and effectively sets the area apart from the intensive commercial development on Lambton Quay and beyond. This ensures that the heritage area remains a defining element in the local streetscape and townscape. The high status evident in the substantial and formal nature of the buildings, the high quality of design and materials used, their relationship in the landscape and open nature of the wider setting and their common governmental history establishes a strong sense of architectural and historic cohesiveness to the precinct.
    • Historic Valueclose
      The Parliamentary Precinct heritage area is known to have been of some use for cultivation by Maori and as a waka landing site. Part of the heritage area was designated as a Government Reserve in 1840 and is associated with the New Zealand Company settlement of Wellington. The area has a rich history and, along with its use by Maori, was once the location of Richard Barrett’s first hotel, the first St Paul’s Anglican Church, the first national museum, and of various official residences for New Zealand’s Governors and Governor Generals. The site has been home to provincial and national government, and from 1865 onwards, has an association with many key historic national and international events, themes and personalities in New Zealand’s history. All of the existing Parliamentary buildings have great significance for their historical role in the governing of New Zealand and are of high heritage and architectural value. They are places where significant decisions affecting the nation have been made and where major national events have taken place. Government Buildings similarly has great significance as a place of national architectural and historic importance and is held in great affection in Wellington and throughout the country.
    • Scientific Valueclose
      The heritage area has a recorded history that spans several centuries and is likely to have high archaeological value. An assessment of the exteriors of the buildings contained within this area will conclude that the area has very high heritage integrity. All the buildings retain, or have had restored, much of their heritage form and fabric. The principal buildings in the area – the two older Parliamentary buildings and Government Buildings – had government-funded refurbishments and restorations in the 1990s. In both cases, elements missing from the buildings were reinstated, enhancing the visual appeal and illustrating the original character of the buildings. Historically, Parliament Buildings and the Parliamentary Library have an obvious but very significant heritage integrity. They have served the same purpose since they were constructed; rare indeed. Government Buildings has changed its use but it remains in government hands and is used for a quasi-government purpose, in this case as the Law Faculty, part of Victoria’s Pipitea campus. The open spaces are equally mixed in their level of integrity. As is the nature of such spaces, maturing trees change their appearance considerably, and the major trees planted in the 1920s are still reaching the scale envisaged 80 years ago. Perhaps the most authentic is the eastern side of Parliament Buildings, which retains much of its 1920s layout, in particular the drive, walls, fences and gates, although it has been considerably altered in places. All the other spaces have changed markedly over time, with perhaps the only lingering element in the wider precinct being the 1900s fence and hedge surrounding Government Buildings.
    • Social Valueclose
      The heritage area is synonymous with the government of New Zealand and, as such, forms part of the identity of the nation. It is used for official government business, state occasions, and is the physical environment for the everyday workings of parliament. The area has a strong media presence and is often used as the backdrop to news media stories on politics, and for political interviews. This ensures that the area is a focus for high public esteem, forms part of the nation’s identity, and has exceptional symbolic, commemorative and cultural value for many New Zealanders. Although best known for its role as the centre for government in New Zealand, some parts of the heritage area have additional social value. The Cenotaph has significant symbolic, commemorative and cultural values as Wellington’s Citizens’ War Memorial, and is the focus for local and regional events including the annual Anzac Day commemorative services. The Waititi Landing Park is marked by twin 6.3 metre pouwhenua gifted by the Wellington Tenths Trust and represents the enduring Treaty partnership between Te Atiawa/Taranaki whanau and the City of Wellington. The former Government Buildings have been refitted for use by the Victoria University Law School and has significant social value for the community that continue to use it.
    • Level Of Cultural Heritage Significanceclose
      The heritage area is unique as the centre for government in New Zealand, and as such has outstanding cultural heritage value. The area, through its site and buildings and longstanding governmental history, exemplifies the political and social history and development of New Zealand. Historically, Parliament Buildings and the Parliamentary Library have an obvious but very significant heritage integrity. They have served the same purpose since they were constructed; rare indeed. Government Buildings has changed its use but it remains in government hands and is used for a quasi-government purpose, in this case as the Law Faculty, part of Victoria’s Pipitea campus. The area has authenticity and integrity because of the retention of significant fabric from the time of the construction of each individual building, statue, monument or object, and for the conservation of the 1920s landscape, including the trees and open spaces.
    • New Zealand Heritage Listclose
  • close New Zealand Heritage List
  • close Additional Information

Last updated: 1/10/2020 12:55:38 AM