The Supreme Court of New Zealand

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The Supreme Court of New Zealand

Presenting a physical embodiment of open justice in a new era – a place that takes the best architectural and legal traditions of the past and re-presents them with the dynamism, self assurance and sense of direction of the country it serves. This complex provides a home for the Supreme Court of New Zealand, a new entity established in 2004. Its function is the final resolution of legal differences in New Zealand, and replaces final appeal to the Privy Council in London, UK. The project consisted of refurbishment and seismic strengthening of the existing 1879 High Court building, and the construction of new Supreme Court facilities immediately adjacent. CONTEXT Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, is built on the edge of a dramatic harbour closely surrounded by rolling hills. The site is on the boundary between the reclaimed waterfront and the Parliamentary precinct consisting of significant buildings around a more composed open landscape. It also abuts the more commercial urban area and the centre of local government. DESIGN A number of development options were explored for the scale and orientation of the new building, with the preference expressed for the scale of the building being massed similarly to the adjacent 1897 historic building, giving exclusive site usage to the Supreme Court, and for the building to address the ‘neutral’ commercial face on Lambton Quay rather than the open landscape opposite the old Government House to the north. A design summary of the building is: • alignment with (but not mimicry of) the existing historic building court adjacent; common ground but not replication • robust, regular expressed concrete structure and ‘glass as a membrane’ • the courtroom freely expressed as a contrasting form within the structure • screening for privacy, sun protection and filigree/mass/expression of the upper floor judicial offices. • abstracted representation of New Zealand people and landscape in the screen and courtroom in particular • justice as an accessible mechanism, visible from the exterior • material selections and services design sustainable in the 100 year life of the building, durable, natural materials. Given a site with a disused but historically valuable building and the brief for a new institution, it was apparent that the design had to satisfy many requirements to be successful. The design establishes relationships of similarity and contrast with the existing building, utilising some elements, departing radically with others in order to fulfil the brief. For instance, while a common ground elevated plane was adopted for functional and architectural reasons, the masonry façade mechanism was replaced with a screen and curtain wall, giving freedom of planning and access to light on all faces. Similarly, where the toplit central space in the traditional structure was bound into the surrounding fabric by the rules of composition defining its whole, the new courtroom also adopts toplighting but establishes the room as a ‘free’ object within the overall structure. The new building's exterior bronze screen relates to the old Victorian building in both plan, elevation, modulation and rhythm and is influenced by the Maori tradition of relating mana, leadership and shelter with native Pohutakawa and Rata trees. The windblown form of these trees in the landscape was developed into a rhythmic pattern providing form, privacy, security, shelter and shading to the interior, utilizing a durable material recycled in New Zealand. Inside, the new courtroom is emphasised by its central position and orientation. The palette of finishes chosen for the interior is sustainable and natural but of materials that will age attractively. The courtroom panelling was influenced by the spiral diamond patterns of the native Kauri cone and the idea of the court as the seed of a new tradition in New Zealand law. The elliptical volume is clad with more than 2000 panels of silver beech timber, producing both smooth and articulated surfaces designed for specific acoustic properties. Glazing in the wall opposite the judges bench allows views into and out of the courtroom, designed to express justice as open and transparent and creates a new relationship between the Court's inhabitants, the public and it’s environment. The building stands in a shallow reflecting pool on a regular dark, basalt clad plinth at a level common with the historic building. Even with the establishment of the Supreme Court, New Zealand’s legal system will continue to be influenced by the English common law system from which is was developed. The existing Old High Court Building, having been vacant for 15 years, was seismically base isolated, significantly strengthened and fully restored. Many elements of the building were faithfully recreated following destruction or removal of the original fabric over time due to earthquake risk or decay. The two buildings now form a convincing edge to the parliamentary precinct, and with the opening in January 2010, a new era in New Zealand law. The complex embodies environmentally sustainable principals of energy and water conservation, natural ventilation, solar collection and daylight controls, selection of sustainable materials and construction techniques. The technologies and trades involved in the two buildings are significantly different, each being truly representative of their time. It is this combination, along with the architectural and cultural relationship of the two buildings that has a richness that contributes to the final successful outcome.


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Building Activity

  • Nadezhda Nikolova
    Nadezhda Nikolova updated
    about 5 years ago via
  • added a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via