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, including interior design.
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.
The interior design of the building is integral with its overall design intent. The primary relationships of structural frame, screen and courtroom/orb are supported by the material choices and scale articulation.
An interior design summary of the building is:
• material selections and services design sustainable throughout the life of the building, using durable, natural materials.
• alignment with (but not mimicry of) the existing court building adjacent; common ground but not replication
• differentiation of the public, court, library and judges office areas with appropriate materiality and detail
• a warm, safe, collegial light filled environment for the judiciary and staff when not in court
• the courtroom as a central focus articulated in timber to produce excellent acoustics and by relation to the spiral patterns of a native Kauri cone
• a two storey library with diffuse external light, continuity of timber office themes
• formal public spaces with both hard and smooth finishes, contrasting with copper orb cladding
The entrance and public circulation spaces are dominated by the freestanding courtroom, emphasised by its central location and orientation. Its copper exterior faces run through two floors lit from the sky above and the joints are coordinated with the internal panelling to give an organic feeling to the object, as if made of thousands of seed segments.
The courtroom sits on a smooth (but not polished) basalt floor, this primary material combination of copper with stone, fine precast concrete and leather furniture frames the entrance and public space experience before entering the courtroom itself.
While the public spaces are hard and smooth, the courtroom is soft, enclosing, but firm. The courtroom panelling was influenced by the spiral diamond patterns of the native Kauri cone, which in turn affords the freedom to articulate in triangles, diamonds and at different scales and tilts. The idea of the court as the seed of a new tradition in New Zealand law is appropriate given the nature of legal debate and its generation of precedent. 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.
Within the courtroom, the judges and counsel parties are seated with modest hierarchic difference to allow eye to eye contact and a conversational approach. The room achieves a level of authority by traditional means of symmetry, baffled toplight and a spare but warm palette of timber, carpet, woven metal screens and leather.
Glazing in the wall opposite the judge’s 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 its environment.
The first floor spaces are more secluded in character, consisting of clusters of Chambers for judges and their support teams and library, all having good natural light, timber furniture and fittings, mixed-mode air conditioning and motorised blinds. The interior of these spaces and the upper floor are strongly influenced by the library and book storage which totals 2.5 linear kilometres of shelving. In order to accommodate this, all walls of the upper circulation space are entirely bookshelf lined. The judge’s chambers are also extensively fitted with built-in joinery for book and documentation storage.
The design embodies environmentally sustainable principals of energy conservation, natural ventilation, daylight controls, selection of sustainable materials and construction techniques.
The interior design was an opportunity to contribute to the development of the legal system of New Zealand at this formative time.