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Basil Spence's first pencil impression of the Beehive


This is the first pencil impression of the Beehive concept in Sir Basil Spence’s notebook.

In the 1960s the government decided to complete Parliament House, which had only been partly built between 1912 and 1922. Prime Minister Keith Holyoake had wanted to complete the original plan, but the government architect persuaded him to put up a modern building. The British architect Sir Basil Spence apparently used a pencil to sketch what would become known as the Beehive on the back of a napkin during dinner with Holyoake in 1964. A detailed coloured sketch got a mixed reception when it was unveiled in the House in August 1964. While Labour MP Basil Arthur said it was ‘a shocker and should be scrapped’, his leader Arnold Nordmeyer praised it. Both parties hoped that the new building would ‘become a source of national pride and international interest’.

The government architect who got the job of turning Spence’s vision into reality may have been less positive about it. It was difficult to make efficient use of a circular design with a central ‘drum’ core, and visitors to the Beehive still find it easy to lose their bearings.


Alexander Turnbull Library
(with permission of Parliament)
Reference: A260-013
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

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Basil Spence's first pencil impression of the Beehive, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated