In 2004, the Supreme Court of New Zealand replaced the Privy Council in London as New Zealand’s court of final appeal.
Housing the new institution called for a building that would borrow from the best architectural and legal traditions and re-present them in an expression of open justice for a new era.
The site chosen for the new building was adjacent to the old High Court building, an elegant late-Victorian structure dating from 1897.
To the east of the site lies the reclaimed waterfront and the harbour; to the northwest is the parliamentary precinct; and to the southwest is Wellington’s CBD.
Several design options were considered before deciding on a design that clearly expressed Aotearoa in the 21st century while still being sympathetic to the existing Victorian structure and the New Zealand legal tradition.
Some elements of the new building – the incorporation of top lighting, for example – borrow from the existing building. But there are also elements that contrast radically. While the older building features a classical European masonry exterior, the façade of the new building takes the form of a bronze screen with a design strongly influenced by the Maori idea of Pohutakawa and Rata trees symbolising both shelter and leadership.
Within the new Supreme Court building, the courtroom itself sits as a separate and contrasting element. Its purpose is reinforced by its central position and its orientation. While glazing opposite the judges’ bench, allows those outside to see in and those inside to see out, suggesting justice that is open and transparent.
As part of the project, the old High Court building – which had not been used for more than 15 years – was significantly strengthened and fully restored, and now houses ancillary administration, education and service spaces.
The technologies and trades of the two buildings are each representative of their times, with the new building, in particular, incorporating the very best principles of environmental sustainability. Together, the two buildings form a more than convincing edge to the parliamentary precinct.
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