What do you get when you mix a box of matches with a napkin? Answer: The executive wing of the New Zealand government. Not the answer you’re expecting? This is the true story of why Wellington has the Beehive: the ugliest government building in the world.
Since Wellington became the nation’s capital in 1865, most government buildings were, although beautiful, made of timber. The harsh natural conditions of Wellington took its toll on the wooden structures; and in 1907, a fire tore through the government buildings taking out with it several national treasures. Parliament temporarily moved across the road to the Governor’s Residence. This Italian renaissance building, also made of timber, was possibly the world’s first smoke-free workplaces due to the risk of further fire.
Construction of the fire and earthquake proof Edwardian Classical Parliament House began a few years later. The original plans were never completed, and the building project was halted until the 1960s.
Bees are hardworking, work well in teams, and serve a purpose to better their hive. That’s how we want our politicians, but realistically though…
The idea to scrap the original Edwardian style for a tiered cylinder came from British architect, Sir Basil Spence. Spence was inspired by the logo on a box of a Bryant & May Beehive Safety Matches, which he carried (despite the smoke free workplace) around to sell the idea of a cylindrical modernist beehive. Prime Minister, Keith Holyoake approved the Beehive plans.
The Beehive has become one of New Zealand’s most recognisable buildings. Its design is starkly different to the more classical styles of the buildings around it. It kind of resembles an old-fashioned beehive, but it also looks like a grey wedding cake with way too many tiers. The Beehive looks the same from every angle, so you can run, but there is no escaping its unrelenting ugliness.
The Beehive is located on the corner of Molesworth St and Lambton Quay. You can access the interior of the building on public tours.