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Supreme Court

The Old High Court Building was built in 1879 on an east-west axis then facing the sea but now modern Office buildings, the New building on the same axis faces Lambton Quay and Parliament, making the urban design and landscape relationship with each important. A number of development options were explored for the new building with the final choice to make it small and special, rather than tall and commercial. This way the scale of the building sits respectfully alongside the historic building and the lower density development forms a natural margin between the open landscaping of the parliamentary precinct and the higher density CBD.

The new building’s exterior bronze screen relates the old Victorian building in both in plan, elevation, modulation and rhythm. It was influenced by the Maori tradition of relating leadership and shelter with Pohutakawa and Rata trees. The windblown form of these trees in the landscape is developed into a rhythmic pattern which gives form, privacy, shelter and shading to the interior, utilising a durable and recycled material from New Zealand. The building stands in a shallow reflecting pool on a regular dark, basalt clad plinth at a level common with the existing building.

Inside, the new courtroom is emphasised by its central position and orientation, with a library, administration and judges chambers arrayed to the edges of the building. The palette of finishes chosen for the interior are natural but refined materials that will gather a patina as they age. The lighter silver beech timber and natural concrete contrasts with the rich dark timber and plastered brick of the historic court interiors.

The design of the courtroom panelling was influenced by the spiral diamond patterns of the kauri cone and the idea of the court as the seed of a new tradition in NZ law. The elliptical volume is clad with more than 2294 panels of silver beech timber, producing both smooth and articulated surfaces to cater for differing acoustic properties required in the design. The room is sky-lit in order for those in the court to get some external view-often of the moving clouds above, and to provide controlled top-lighting to the space. A window in the wall opposite the Judges bench facing Lambton Quay allows not only the Judges to look out but the Public to literally see justice being done.

The first floor chambers are clusters of spaces for each of the judges and their support teams, all having good natural light, good furniture and fittings, mixed mode air conditioning and motorised blinds. Each judge has influenced the layout, furniture and artwork in their spaces, and though dimensionally almost the same they are all slightly different. The interior of these spaces and the upper floor generally is strongly influenced by the library and book storage, totalling 2.5 linear km of shelving. In order to accommodate this, all walls of the upper circulation space are entirely bookshelf lined. The judges’ chambers are also extensively fitted with built in joinery for storage of their many books and papers.

The existing Old High Court Building which had fallen into disrepair after being vacant for 15 years was base isolated, significantly strengthened and fully restored as part of the project. It now houses ancillary, administration, educational and service spaces. The restored Courtroom will be available for ceremonial uses as well as civil cases, environmental court and other non-criminal hearings. The work in the Old High Court Building was detailed with guidance from the Conservation Report prepared by Conservation Architect Chris Cochran, and using Warren and Mahoney experience from the Parliament project in base isolation work. Many elements of the building have been faithfully recreated following destruction or removal of the original fabric over time due to earthquake risk or decay. The technologies and trades involved in the two buildings are quite different, each being truly representative of their time. It is this combination along with the architectural and symbolic relationship of the two buildings that has a richness which contributes to the final successful outcome for the client.


NZ Wood Timber Design Awards 2010
Winner – Interior Fit-Out

Project team:

Roy Wilson, Bill Gregory, Nick Warring, Simon Brown, Andrew Wade, Eugene Coleman