Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct

The Justice & Emergency Services Precinct is a major project in the rebuild of Christchurch and articulates the design aspirations of the Recovery Plan.


  • Christchurch, New Zealand


  • Ministry of Justice

Project Value

  • $340m

Project Status

  • Complete: 2012 - 2018


  • 2018 NZ Property Council - Excellence Awards
  • 2018 NZIA Canterbury Branch Award - Interior Architecture
  • 2018 NZIA Canterbury Branch Awards - Public Architecture

The 2011 earthquakes caused widespread damage to Canterbury, particularly to the Christchurch city centre. The local community have shown their resilience and determination in rebuilding a city that is not only stronger but that looks to the future with modern and sustainable infrastructure. The 43,000m2 precinct was the largest multi-agency government co-location project in NZ, housing eight justice and emergency services agencies. Purpose-built to an IL4 standard with 72-hour emergency operations resilience, the Precinct is the nerve centre for Canterbury’s management of a major emergency.


The Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 destroyed or irreparably damaged the existing court, Police and emergency services facilities in Christchurch. This precipitated the design for a new, more efficient and effective combined facility. The site for the precinct was selected to align with the public transport hub and to relate to other essential services buildings like the hospital. It was also to form the southern edge of a new compact CBD that would create a smaller but more intensive environment for development and activity in the recovering city.

The Crown, as owner and principal occupier of the Precinct pursued a vision of a more collaborative and joined up delivery of Police and Justice services through the co-location of agencies. The goal for the six emergency management agencies was to create a highly coordinated response system in one building with a dedicated, state of the art, Emergency Operations Centre. The highly bespoke nature of the functional and operational requirements of these agencies are incredibly challenging and achieving the outcomes sought are unprecedented nationally and internationally.


The site suffered minimal liquefaction during the February 2011 earthquake and no ground cracking or lateral movement was recorded at the site or on neighbouring properties. The position of the buildings within the Precinct had deliberately been pushed to the other edges of the site to help reinforce the urban grid for the central city, something missing in the post-earthquake city with so many buildings demolished.

This, together with the low-rise scale of the precinct was intended to set a precedent for other large-scale future developments in the city, thus regenerating a form and function for the urban centre that is both clearly legible and easily accessible at pedestrian and vehicular level. The concentration of buildings around the site perimeter frees the centre of the site to become a landscaped courtyard, providing a sheltered public space within the city.

The picturesque Courtyard precinct


The Precincts’ design gives life and form to the Blueprint’s aspirations for the future city of Christchurch. The materials used respond to the city’s architectural heritage, with an innovative use of stone elements and a variety of self-finishing materials in the internal spaces.  The law courts design is a break from tradition in its open, light and less forbidding form. It places user and community interests over historical function and formality.

The partnership with iwi is unique and their contribution to the design elements was an outstanding feature of the design outcome.  Design and construction complexity were driven by the importance Level 4 (IL4) seismic standard required and the sophisticated bespoke agency requirements. Resilience, acoustic, security, communications, technology and building services requirements achieve standards and an integrated form quite unparalleled in New Zealand. In 2013 the Urban Design Panel review identified the external treatment of the car parking building as an idea for further design development.


Sustainability and East of Operation:  The Precinct’s building services are controlled automatically through a sophisticated highly intelligent Building Management System with extensive zoning capability, particularly in lighting and HVAC systems. High levels of redundancy were built into the Precincts essential services to enable emergency services to operate for 72 hours in a fully self-sufficient mode.

Sustainability objectives have been recognised in the choice of materials from sustainable sources and design elements in the glazing and louvre system, which facilitate efficient energy management. The Precinct’s peak cooling and heating loads are 25-30% less than what would be normal for a complex of this size which is achieved through use of aquifer and natural ventilation systems.