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Scoop Feature: Inside The Supreme Court

Scoop Feature: Inside The Supreme Court

Complaints over Stalinist architectural overtones and concerns over cost overruns accompanied the opening of New Zealand's newest civic masterpiece or mistake (depending on your opinion) by Prince William last week. Scoop's Carl Suurmond toured the building with his camera to see what all the fuss is about.


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The new $80.7 million Supreme Court, New Zealand's highest court of appeal was officially opened last Monday by Prince William after construction began in October 2007.


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In 2004 the court was established to replace the role of the Privy Council in London - all New Zealand appeals to the Privy Council came to an end in December 2003.

Until now the Supreme Court has been operating temporarily from the lower ground floor of the Wellington High Court building on Molesworth St.

The Supreme Court, which (according to the Ministry of Justice) has a design life of 100 years, is located in Wellington, diagonally opposite Parliament, with the main entrance point at 85 Lambton Quay. The complex sits between Ballance St and Whitmore St.


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Construction of the Supreme Court included the restoration of the dilapidated old High Court building which fell into disrepair after the doors closed in 1993 when the High Court was relocated to Molesworth St.

The new building was designed according to heritage guidelines - it had to reflect the era in which it was built - i.e the noughties, and also compliment and respect the adjoining heritage building.


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The building was also designed in accordance with sustainable design policies, in particular with low energy use in mind. Materials and building processes selected for the project had to meet a sustainability criteria.


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The contemporary design by architectural firm Warren and Mahoney was unveiled in September 2006 after consultation with the Supreme Court judiciary, New Zealand Historic Places Trust, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the Ministry for the Environment and the Wellington City Council.

Warren and Mahoney's previous projects include: the Westpac Stadium, The Michael Fowler Center, the current expansion of Wellington International Airport (the "pumpkins") as well as the planned somewhat controversial refurbishment of the National Library.

And the new Supreme Court building is no stranger to controversy either. Numerous commentators have opined on its similarity to Stalinist architectural themes.

The Supreme Court complex is a combination of new and old, the contemporary design of the new court stands in contrast against the Victorian-era; old High Court building it is connected to.

The $4.5 million bronze facade that wraps around the outside of the building was developed in collaboration with sculptor Neil Dawson. It depicts native pohutukawa and rata trees, the pieces of red stained glass set inside the bronze symbolise the flowers of the trees. The 90 tonne bronze screen consists of 88 panels, each 8 metres in height, designed to provide solar screening, glare control, privacy and security.

The cone shape of the new free-standing court room draws inspiration from the cone of a kauri tree. The exterior of the cone is made from copper while the interior features 2,294 panels made from South Island silver beech.


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The courtroom has been designed with a window which is visible from Lambton Quay, this is to symbolise the transparency of the court. The building has a double height ceiling, a library, judicial chambers and space for the registry function and ancillary services.


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Two heritage items are displayed inside the courtroom. A Māori carved waka huia (treasure box), and a silver inkwell, dated 1702, which once belonged to Queen Anne, gifted to the Court by the Privy Council in 2004.


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The basement of the new building houses the plant room and car parks. The plant room is located under the building for aesthetic reasons and because it is more practical and efficient to connect services to both buildings.

The old High Court building required extra remedial and strengthening work as it was in a far worse condition than expected. The budget was increased from $65.1 million to $80.7 million after the Government revised the overall budget in 2008, with the majority of the additional funding going into restoring the old High Court building.

The Old High Court building is now protected from the worst effects of earthquake by on seismic base isolation bearings designed to protect stone and brick buildings. Similar technology is used to protect Te Papa.


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The interior of the old High Court has been restored to its former glory. The curved staircase that leads to the public gallery; the court room with its intricate carvings and wooden panelled walls; and the English coat of arms - replicated by model-makers from old photos; showcase the workmanship that went into the project. The exterior of the building involved many retired plasterers who were able to pass on their skills to younger tradespeople.


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The old courtroom will be used for ceremonial purpose and as a hearing room by other court jurisdictions where this is practical. The remaining space in the building will be used to accommodate future growth allowing the new High Court building to meet its 100 year lifespan.


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From the old High Court room you can access the cells via a very tight spiral staircase that take you down to a narrow, white, freshly painted corridor, a place which has seen some of the country's most notorious criminals.


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The new Supreme Court building is now open to the public between the hours of 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. The Old High Court building will also be open once some final work has been completed - this is expected to be sometime in February.

Email tours@justice.govt.nz for more information.

ENDS

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