Parliament House in New Zealand was first occupied in 1918 but had become too small for modern government business by the 1960s. Prior to a visit to Wellington in 1964, Spence was approached by the New Zealand Government to advise on the design of the Parliament extension.
He proposed providing space for an extension by demolishing the timber vice regal residence known as Bellamys. By this time, Spence was at the height of his international fame, having recently completed Coventry Cathedral and received his knighthood. Some New Zealanders felt that Spence’s proposals were intended to shock the government committee into considering a radical solution. Others argued that the hiring of an established overseas consultant expressed a lack of confidence in local architects and that a national competition should be organised. Spence’s response was that the circular design was serious, considered, and practical. He pointed out that it was symbolic of unity and had historic precedent in government buildings such as the Capitol in Washington, USA. On a more practical level, he also indicated that his suggested form of building was circular in order to best withstand an earthquake.
Popularly known as ‘The Beehive’, the extension was built between 1969 and 1979. It was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1977, a year after Spence’s death.
The image of the Beehive has become an iconic emblem for New Zealand just as the Opera House in Sydney is for Australia. It appears on the New Zealand $20 bank notes and also as a background to the country’s daily national TV news broadcasts.