December 11th, 1907 – The New Zealand Parliament Burns Down

Today-In-History

An earlier wooden Parliament House of New Zealand was almost completely destroyed by fire on December 11th, 1907 along with all other parliament buildings except the library. The library was fire resistant, being constructed of masonry. It also had an iron fire-door that saved the library from the fire of 1907 which destroyed the rest of the (wooden) parliament buildings.

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A competition to find a replacement design was announced by Prime Minister Joseph Ward in February 1911 and 33 designs were entered. The winning design, by Government Architect John Campbell, was selected by Colonel Vernon, former Government Architect for New South Wales. As another of Campbell’s entries won fourth place, the actual design is a combination of both entries. The design was divided into two stages. The first half, a Neoclassical building, contained both chambers and the second half Bellamy’s and a new Gothic Revival library to replace the existing one.

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Despite cost concerns, Prime Minister William Massey let construction of the first stage begin in 1914, but without much of the roof ornamentation or the roof domes. The outbreak of World War I created labour and material shortages that made construction difficult. Although the building was unfinished, MPs moved into it in 1918 to avoid having to use the old, cramped Government House (which housed the Governor). In 1922, the first stage was completed (the second stage was never built). The building was finally officially opened in 1995 by Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of New Zealand, after its comprehensive strengthening and refurbishment. The intention of the Liberal Government was for the design to be implemented in stages, eventually resulting in a coherent architectural setting. Instead, as Heritage New Zealand remarks, the setting that has been achieved “has little aesthetic or architectural coherence”, especially through the construction of the Beehive instead of completion of Parliament House.

The_Beehive_in_June_2012The land intended for the second stage of Parliament House is occupied by the Executive Wing. This building conceived by British architect Sir Basil Spence in 1964, largely designed by the Ministry of Works, was officially opened by Elizabeth II, Queen of New Zealand in 1977. The government moved into the building in 1979. Due to its distinctive shape, it is referred to colloquially as “The Beehive“.

The building is ten stories and 72 metres high. The top floor is occupied by the Cabinet room, with the Prime Minister’s offices on the floor immediately below. Other floors contain the office of individual ministers and various function rooms occupy the first three floors.

In the late 1990s there was consideration of moving the Beehive behind Parliament House, and finishing Parliament House according to the 1911 original plans. The plan was quickly scuttled due to a lack of public support and subsequent withdrawal of party support.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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