Parliament House, Wellington
History and museums
Parliament House in Wellington is the main building of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings. It contains the debating chamber, Speaker's office, visitors' centre, and committee rooms. It replaced an earlier building that burned down in 1907, and Parliament used the building from 1918, with it being fully finished in 1922. Parliament House was extensively earthquake strengthened and refurbished between 1991 and 1995. It is open for visitors almost every day of the year, and is one of Wellington's major visitor attractions. Parliament House is a Category I heritage building registered by Heritage New Zealand.
On 11 December 1907, the original Parliament House burned to the ground, along with all other parliament buildings except the library. The Liberal Government under Richard Seddon took this as an opportunity to completely redesign the seat of government, with unified buildings in permanent materials for the politicians and the supporting administration. A museum was allowed for and the public servants would move across from the Old Government Buildings on Lambton Quay.
A competition to find a replacement design was announced by Prime Minister Joseph Ward in February 1911 and 33 designs were entered. The winning design, by Government Architect John Campbell, was selected by Colonel Vernon, former Government Architect for New South Wales. As another of Campbell's entries won fourth place, the actual design is a combination of both entries. The design was divided into two stages. The first half, a Neoclassical building, contained both chambers and the second half Bellamy's and a new Gothic Revival library to replace the existing one.
Despite cost concerns, Prime Minister William Massey let construction of the first stage begin in 1914, but without much of the roof ornamentation or the roof domes. The outbreak of World War I created labour and material shortages that made construction difficult. Although the building was unfinished, MPs moved into it in 1918 to avoid having to use the old, cramped Government House (which housed the Governor). In 1922, the first stage was completed; the second stage was never built.
During the 1980s, there were discussions about earthquake risk, and Parliament House had started to look shabby. There was even discussion about having the building torn down. In 1989, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (now known as Heritage New Zealand) assigned the highest heritage rating to the building - Category I. This helped convince the decision makers to have the building strengthened and renovated, and what was up to then New Zealand's largest heritage building conservation project began. In 1991, members moved across to Bowen House, where a temporary debating chamber had been built. Base isolation was installed, and at its peak, 400 workers were on site plus an additional 300 people were working offsite on the project. The renovated building was officially opened in November 1995 by Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of New Zealand, after its comprehensive strengthening and refurbishment. The parliamentarians had their first session in the renovated building in February 1996.
The intention of the Liberal Government had been for the design to be implemented in stages, eventually resulting in a coherent architectural setting. Instead, as Heritage New Zealand remarks, the setting that has been achieved "has little aesthetic or architectural coherence", especially through the construction of the Beehive instead of completion of Parliament House.
Parliament is open to the public every day apart from some key public holidays, but entry is subject to security screening. Free one-hour tours are offered between 10 am and 4 pm on the full hour. Access to the public galleries above the debating chamber is not part of the tour, is only possible on days the house is sitting, and a dress code applies. Parliament House has a visitor centre, with opening hours slightly longer than the times during which tours are offered.