Tūranga: Inside the new home for Christchurch's book-lovers

by Sally Blundell / 02 November, 2018
Christchurch’s new $92 million library, Tūranga, designed by Architectus in partnership with Denmark’s Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects. Photo/Pam Carmichael

Christchurch’s new $92 million library, Tūranga, designed by Architectus in partnership with Denmark’s Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects. Photo/Pam Carmichael

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One compensation of Christchurch city’s quake ordeal is its state-of-the-art library. Take a look inside.

“The only thing that you absolutely have to know,” said Albert Einstein, “is the location of the library.”

In Christchurch, that will be the easy part. At night, Tūranga, the new $92 million central library, glows golden above the pitted Wilson’s car parks and the endlessly dark Cathedral Square. By day, the striated aluminium facade reflects the folded nature of the nearby Port Hills, all tawny grass and sudden shadows in an otherwise muted cityscape.

The location of the books may not be so obvious.

Open for business now, Tūranga will invite the expected 3000 visitors a day into a spacious, noisy, 10,000sq m civic hub. It features a cafe, a 200-seat community arena, two robotic caddies transferring returned items to the processing area and a huge $1.2 million 7m-long interactive touchscreen wall where users will be able to swipe through a virtual montage of the city’s history. Upstairs, library users will find activity rooms, a video-editing suite, facilities for crafts, 3D printing, an exhibition space, study spaces, meeting rooms, a large children’s play area laid out beneath a multicoloured cloudscape of LED lights, outdoor terraces looking out to Maukatere/Mt Grey to the north and towards Aoraki/Mt Cook in the west.

And yes, there will be books – 180,000 of them, retrieved from two temporary libraries and two storerooms where they have been housed since the Canterbury earthquakes. Where books once filled the ground floor of the old library, pulled down in 2014 to make way for the city’s under-construction convention centre, they’ll now occupy the three upper floors of the new facility.

“It’s about drawing people up through the building,” says Christchurch head of libraries and information Carolyn Robertson, weaving her way between looped cables, wrapped furniture and rows of sharp white shelving, in advance of its opening. “It allows for that diversity of experiences.”

Although people might assume the new library is simply a bigger version of the old one, the reality, she says, is different: “We’re completely reinventing it in the process.”

The library was designed by New Zealand company Architectus in partnership with award-winning Danish library design experts Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects (now part of global architecture firm Perkins+Will).

As lead architect Carsten Auer writes, “Libraries have moved on from being repositories of books to being multimedia hubs and social hubs. The modern library is the ‘third space’ between home and work. It’s a place where you can meet people or be ‘alone together’, enjoying sharing a social and recreational space with others, even if you are not engaging directly with them.”

The designers looked to new libraries around the world, including those in Birmingham, Nova Scotia, Salt Lake City and the new Dokk1 in Aarhus, Denmark, also designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen and including a citizen service centre, studios, a cafe, a theatre and terraced stairs that convert into an amphitheatre.

These are the archetypes for the new architect-designed hybrid library, a multipurpose civic commons aimed at fostering community living as much as learning and literacy.

Although representing new global trends in library design, Tūranga also has a strong local flavour. The fin-like shapes on the exterior cladding echo harakeke (flax) leaves. The design, on the interior ground-floor wall and sandblasted into the exterior bluestone, was devised by local Māori artists Morgan Mathews-Hale and, in a welcome return to the public space of the city, master carver Riki Manuel.

On track for a Green Star sustainability rating of 5 out of a potential 6, the building will also be braced for future earthquakes. Its core is made up of 26m-high precast concrete walls clamped by damping devices designed to dissipate the energy of seismic events like structural shock absorbers.

Says Southbase Construction site manager Andy Hayes, “If this place is affected [by a quake], the town is gone.”

This article was first published in the October 13, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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