Built in 1910 on the site previously occupied by the Mount View lunatic asylum Wellington’s Government House is set amongst 12 hectares of land that stretch from the hills of Mount Victoria to the Newtown flats. Over the last few years a significant conservation project has transformed the house and grounds to meet the needs of a contemporary Governor-General, while respecting and protecting its heritage values.
Ref: 1/1-019882-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Isthmus were engaged to develop a Masterplan and a long-term strategic framework for restoration, maintenance and management of the grounds. This framework set the guiding context for the detailed design and implementation of the South Lawn, and other works directly around the house itself, that were delivered as part of $44m Conservation Project.
The Master Plan mapped and analysed the local context, significant views, buildings and cultural heritage elements, physical features and microclimates, existing vegetation patterns, maintenance priority areas, public access, security and circulation, events and ceremonial access, vegetation framework and features of the House and its immediate surrounds.
The broader design moves addressed the visitor’s introduction to Government House including improved circulation and processional spaces throughout the landscape and clearer hierarchy of ceremonial service and working movements between the grounds and the house. Also included were the proposed directions for improvements to landscapes adjacent to the house and for rationalised service, parking and support areas.
before and after aerial photos
A series of subsequent design moves addressed a range of operational and spatial relationship aspects within the house. These moves were shaped by careful consideration of the existing historical context, intention and fabric – and analysis of the current and likely future use of the various spaces. They also took into account and integrated the high degree of structural and infrastructural upgrade required in many spaces.
The design ensures clear cues for vehicle and pedestrian movement with different spaces detailed to an appropriate aesthetic for both ceremonial and utility functions. The Hospital Road entrance has been reconfigured to screen non-dignitary vehicles from the main ceremonial space and direct them to the new administration office. Pedestrian movement has been prioritised on a separate processional path clearly aligned with the entrance to the ball room; the main venue for public indoor events. areas of paving, lawn and planting have been reconfigured on the south lawn and north terrace to emphasise sight lines and ensure clear cues for visitors that support both security requirements and enjoyment of events.
South Lawn illustration by Stantiall Studio
Enduring materials were used throughout and specified carefully to enhance both experience and functional requirements whilst keeping the budget in check. On the south lawn, in line with the areas formal function, Granite kerbs and paving enclose the sweeping gravel drive, an elegant reflective pool and formal planting with bold groups of nikau and a rich and varied underplanting of indigenous and exotic species. In the carpark, a clear and crisp aesthetic is achieved with asphalt, stone walls, grass, specimen trees and a simple palette of flax and renga renga lily.
As a further benefit drawn from the Masterplanning process, controlled access to the house and grounds is possible with a new Visitor Centre located in the realigned squash court, historic stables and Conservation Project administration building opened by the Prince of Wales in 2012. The quality and additional benefits of the project have been well tested over the past two years through a series of important events including the welcoming ceremony for the new Governor General and popular public open days. Ongoing development of the preliminary Masterplan and the future benefits of the detailed design Conservation Project, supported by new DPMC management and maintenance plans, will ensure that the heritage of this important cultural landscape continues.
The new vistor centre in the coach house.
Restored port cochere and entry into the ballroom.
The south lawn is a significant space for ceremonial events and acts as a marae atea.
The Convict’s Wall, part of the asylum landscape connected with the airing court for the ‘lunatics’.
View across the South Lawn.
“Planting design has created a passive New Zealand flavour throughout – subtle and beautiful in its execution” – NZILA citiation
The new kitchen garden includes many herbs and edible plants within a framework of native species.
Photos: Nathan Young
Awards: 2013 NZILA Award of Excellence – Residential Landscape Architecture
Isthmus Project Team: Ralph Johns, Dan Males, Lisa Rimmer, Helen Kerr
Client: Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet
Collaborators: Athfield Architects, Beca, Bark