The precinct is an opportunity to return justice and emergency services in Christchurch to a position where they can provide better public services through innovation and new ways of collaborating.
"It has been a privilege to be involved with such a foundational civic building within the rebuild of the city. We are extremely proud to have delivered a transformative development that will make a significant contribution to the future Christchurch." Andrew Barclay
Following a site blessing by Ngāi Tahu in July and the official opening ceremony by the Prime Minister, the Christchurch Justice & Emergency Services Precinct continues to undergo final tenant fit-out in readiness for operations.
Warren and Mahoney architects, working in association with Opus Architecture and Cox Architects from Australia, took the design lead in the development which brings together the Ministry of Justice, NZ Police, Department of Corrections, as well as Fire and Emergency NZ (formerly the NZ Fire Service), Civil Defence and St John. “It’s going to be exciting to see this ambitious project contributing to everyday services of the city. It’s a critical step forward in rebuilding and rethinking the social urban fabric,” says Warren and Mahoney director Andrew Barclay.
The precinct houses 19 courtrooms, judges’ chambers, a state-of-the-art emergency operations centre and car-parking for operational vehicles in an open and user-friendly facility. “Courts and police buildings throughout the 19th and 20th century were densely massed and visually impenetrable but this complex invites the public into its heart,” says Barclay.
The challenge for the design team was to achieve the architectural gravitas required of a civic complex and the attendant stringent security requirements while maintaining an open-natured environment. Keeping certain elements transparent was an important part of the master plan. On every elevation of the Justice Building, there are glassed areas which allow foot traffic and the immediate community to feel some connectivity with the occupants of these spaces. A lane that runs between Lichfield and Tuam streets further enhances the permeability of the site.
At the centre of the complex is a framed open square with landscaping and informal seating, a courtyard typology that is familiar to the people of Christchurch. Staff and visitors will be able to sit in the sunlight and eat their lunch or meet at the coffee outlet that faces on to this green heart. “It’s part of the design strategy to decrease stress for visitors to the courts environment by offering higher amenity to the public,” says lead architect Nick Warring.
The courtyard allows several points where people can see through to the context of the city. It also acts as a powerful orientation feature for those navigating the complex. In a similar vein, the entrances from the two main street addresses lead into a multi-storey atrium. Filled with natural light, the atrium incorporates a coffee kiosk, waiting zones and customer service areas to provide a welcoming face to the public
The material palette of bronzed aluminium, basalt, limestone, glass and timber lend ‘civic weight’ in a contemporary way. “We chose robust materials to convey permanence and used them to delineate the public realm from the support spaces for critical services,” says Warring. One example is the first floor of the Justice Building which is bounded by full-height glazing to form a visual break between the darker stone base and the light-coloured limestone that clads the courtrooms on the upper levels of the building. Timber-battened soffits and ceiling panels provide a softer foil to the stone and glass and are also used to delineate the public spaces within the precinct.
Warren and Mahoney and the Ministry of Justice were keen to engage with local iwi on the design strategy and one physical manifestation of this collaboration is the frit-printed glass façade that faces Durham Street. Ngāi Tahu/Ngāi Tūāhuriri artist Lonnie Hutchinson designed an abstracted pattern derived from huia feathers which was digitally printed onto 100 panels of toughened glass. “There was a desire for something that was both meaningful to Ngāi Tahu/Ngāi Tūāhuriri and spoke of the ideals and delivery of justice. The avian theme and reference to the huia feather were recurring elements in the workshop sessions,” explains Warring. The huia feather alludes to an historic alliance formed between Ngāi Tahu and the Crown in 1936. The glass pattern itself provides solar protection for the building occupants and throws subtle shadows into the courtrooms while not completely obscuring the view. Hutchinson also worked closely with Warren and Mahoney to produce a delicately sculpted but striking metal cloak that shrouds the carpark building from the street. “Working alongside the artists was a unique opportunity to impart a hand-crafted touch and bring a sense of soul to the complex,” says Warring.
Seismically, the building is graded to Importance Level 4, particularly pertinent to the Emergency Operations Centre which, through careful design, links seamlessly to the workspaces of each of the six emergency services agencies in the complex. The building’s resilient structure will ensure uninterrupted and standalone function for at least 72 hours should an event occur that renders the city infrastructure inoperable.
All in all, around 2000 people will work in or use the complex each day and with a total floor area of 42,000m2 (the equivalent of two full-size city blocks), this is the largest, multi-agency government project in New Zealand’s history.
“It has been a privilege to be involved with such a foundational civic building within the rebuild of the city. We are extremely proud to have delivered a transformative development that will make a significant contribution to the future Christchurch,” says Barclay.
View more about this project here.