Input wanted for $85m central library

Last updated 06:56 22/03/2014

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Cathedral Square will be home to Christchurch's new central library but the $85 million building will be far more than a warehouse for books. LOIS CAIRNS reports.

Christchurch's new $85 million public library is going to shatter any lingering illusions that libraries are about quiet, dimly-lit spaces and towering shelves groaning with dusty books.

That's the promise from the Christchurch City Council as it launches the Your Library, Your Voice campaign, which is aimed at getting the public to put forward their ideas about what they want in their new central library.

"This is going to be a people place," says Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel. "A library isn't a library when it is just full of books. A library is a library when you've got people using it."

A new central library fronting Cathedral Square was included as one of the anchor projects in the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan. The council is leading the project and has budgeted $75 million for it, with another $10m coming from philanthropic sources.

Dalziel, who recalls spending many happy hours at public libraries as a child, can't wait to get the project under way and to hear people's ideas about what should be in a modern library.

"This is an amazing opportunity to do something that is a statement about our city in a way that speaks to our future," says Dalziel. "This will be more than a building. It will be an asset for the city designed by the city"

Auckland-based architectural firm Architectus will have the job of translating the community's ideas for the library into a working design, but the company won't be working on it alone. It has roped in Danish architectural firm schmidt hammer lassen to help.

Considered world leaders in the design of libraries, schmidt hammer lassen are responsible for the distinctive heptagonal-shaped design of the biggest public library in Scandinavia, which is being built on the waterfront of Aarhus in western Denmark at a cost of more than $370 million. They have also designed libraries in Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada and China, winning dozens of awards in the process.

Architectus director Carsten Auer says it is exciting to be collaborating with the internationally renowned Danish firm. Both companies recognise the critical role the library could play in revitalising Christchurch's city centre and are excited by the chance to give Christchurch a striking new civic building.

"Christchurch has a great tradition of architecture and we're not too nervous to add to tha,." says Auer.

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"One of the reasons why schmidt hammer lassen was drawn to this project is they because recognise its significance . . . and understand what is means to the regeneration of Christchurch.

The new facility will be the largest public library in the South Island. It will have up to five storeys and provide around 12,000 square metres of floor space, making it almost twice as large as the old central library in Gloucester St.

It will be a multimedia hub and potentially include cafes and complementary retail, such as a bookshop.

Auer says the days when libraries were "ivory tower institutions are long gone. Today's modern libraries are "social hubs and multi-media nodes".

"A library is for people. If it is not a hive of activity that attracts people then a library is doomed to fail," Auer says. "It's about people, it's about place- making and that lies at the core of a library.

Christchurch City Council's libraries and information services manager Carolyn Robertson has high aspirations for the new library but concedes the $85m budget may not be enough to get everything on the wishlist.

She says compromises may need to be made but it is important the spaces within the library are flexible so it can adapt to changes in technology and user needs.

"Libraries are really vibrant community hubs these days where all sorts of community connections are made and people do a whole range of things. We really want to push the boundaries of that.

"We want it to be a place that is about imagination, creativity and discovery."

Robertson and her team have spent months thinking about what they want in the new library, but now they want to hear ideas from established library users and those who have never before set foot in a library.

"We want to know what residents want their new central library to provide in the way of services and to get their ideas about the look and feel of the building," says Robertson.

More than half of Christchurch residents are public library users and the council expects around 2000 people a day will visit the new public library once it opens. That will dramatically increase foot traffic in the central city and help breathe new life into the area.

"It will be a destination attraction and a catalyst for other ideas in the central city," says Dalziel.

She says the council will need to spend the $85m it has budgeted for the project wisely.

"We'll be looking at value for money throughout the exercise and also looking at what are the co-location opportunities which might give us a return on our investment as well. There is a proposal to have additional floor space for commercial offices, potentially, which would enable us to have an income off the site until we need to expand. That enables us to step up over a period of time - we don't have to have everything all at once," says Dalziel.

The new library is scheduled to open in 2017.

People can contribute their ideas about what they want to have in the library at yourvoice.ccc.govt.nz

WHAT KIDS WANT IN THE NEW LIBRARY: A dress-up area for story characters

Crocodile bean bags in a book lake

A train with books going around

A movie room for' 'read the book, watch the film"

An art/science/wet area where they can experiment with things they find in books

- The Press

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