Aerial view of The Beehive and Parliament House. © Lewis Mulatero Creative #: 487699527

The Beehive and Parliament Buildings

View the map


By the standards of contemporary architecture, you might think Parliament Buildings are pretty fancy. All that Takaka marble, the pillars, the columns and porticoes are hardly what you’d see on an architect’s easel these days.

Amazingly, however, it’s only half of what it would have been if the architect had got his way. The design is based on two different concepts submitted by John Campbell in 1911, placed first and fourth in a competition run by the Premier, Joseph Ward, for a design replacing the previous set of parliament buildings, which were burned down in 1907. Campbell’s two designs were amalgamated into one great Edwardian, neo-colonial extravagance with more urns, balustrades and cupolas than you could poke a Black Rod at.

The government baulked at the expense, and the half-a-parliament that fits between the old parliamentary library (which survived the fire) and the Beehive, is the result.

The Beehive is reputed to have been sketched on a napkin by British architect Sir Basil Spence, who was consulted on the project in 1964 after the bickering and infighting among New Zealand’s normally peace-loving community of architects threatened to slide into full-scale civil war. The name, too, is supposed to have been just as ad hoc. Spence dug into his pocket and produced a box of Beehive matches, and the name stuck. To think, the seat of power in this country might well have been known as The Lighter or The PXT-Capable WAP Browser if the same approach had been taken today.

Strolling the corridors of power makes for a fascinating tour. If the members aren’t sitting that day, you can even pace about the Debating Chamber and sit in some member’s chair, while you decide whether you’re with the Ayes, the Noes or some other misspelt part of facial anatomy altogether.

Besides the architectural features and (in the case of the Beehive) peculiarities, the commentary explains the political process in all its complexity. If Parliament is in session, you can look on from the Public Gallery. The best time to do this is during Question Time when the heavyweights are likely to be warming the front benches and engaging in the kind of refined and intellectual sparring you’ll only ever see in the rarefied precincts of parliament or at kindy after everyone’s had a bit too much sugar.

Explore more...

Be the first to comment on this page. You cannot post comments until you have logged in. Please log in or register if you don't have an account.

More stories like this

Find out more

Things to do

Gisborne to Wellington: sampling the finer things in life

Gisborne intrigues me. It’s a mix of tradition, culture and nature. Lovely beaches are right there, the town is buzzy and interesting, and there is an air of self-sufficiency about . . . Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Things to do

New Plymouth: mountains and masterpieces

We get to New Plymouth on dark but the hotel is easy to find and we’re soon settled in and walking up to the centre of town on the hunt . . . Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Things to do

Gore: more than golden guitars

On one hand, the Gore Country Music Club’s weekly get-together sums up the town’s character. It’s heart-warmingly friendly, good-natured, nurturing and inclusive. Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Things to do

Simple pleasures at Mangawhai

At Mangawhai Heads’ ocean beach we began with a glorious evening walk to where the cliff track rises to follow the edge of land above crashing surf, gliding gulls, endless views. Read the story . . .