Parliament House was looking somewhat shabby by the 1980s. Some people argued that it should be pulled down, but the assigning of an 'A' classification by the Historic Places Trust helped confirm the special value of the building. Not only was the place dowdy, but it was becoming unsafe too, which was intensified by its location about 400 metres from an earthquake fault line.
In 1992 the biggest heritage building conservation project undertaken in New Zealand began when work commenced on strengthening and refurbishing Parliament House and the Parliamentary Library. Queen Elizabeth II opened the new-look complex in November 1995, and the first sitting of the House in the restored chamber was held in February 1996. During the project, Parliament was moved across the road to Bowen House. An underground tunnel was built to connect it to the Beehive, and a temporary Debating Chamber was erected next to Bowen House.
Strengthening the buildings was a key part of the project. In a mammoth job, the buildings were cut from their original foundations, new basements were carved out, and 417 base isolators made of rubber, steel and lead were installed to separate the buildings from the ground. Reinforced concrete supported the walls, and new wings were built on the second and third floors.
The cost, including the refurbishment of the library, was about $175 million, and during the busiest building phase, more than 400 people were employed on the site, with another 300 engaged throughout New Zealand and overseas. The materials came from all over New Zealand and further afield too: marble from the hills around Takaka, joinery from Masterton, concrete precast from Otaki, ceramics made in Italy and bronze windows crafted in Australia.
The refurbishment allowed new spaces to be opened up, such as an internal courtyard or Galleria made of Takaka marble and Coromandel granite. Against some opposition from MPs, the old billiard room and Members' lounge was converted into the Grand Hall for use as a function space. Select committee rooms were located on the ground floor. The doorway of one was decorated with Pacific motifs, and the new Maori Affairs Committee Room, Maui Tikitiki-a-Taranga, was furnished with carvings and tukutuku. On the first floor there were rooms for the Clerk of the House and government whips, and the old Cabinet room was converted into a new office for the Speaker. MPs were located in offices on all floors: government members on the first and second floors, and the Leader of the Opposition and Opposition MPs on the top floor.
The plan was not only to make Parliament a safe building with high heritage values but a place that would be accessible to New Zealanders. It was to be an 'Open House' with enhanced public access. Sure enough, the revitalised buildings attracted many more visitors on tours or just looking. Tours became more regular than before, and a shop and visitor centre were established.