New Christchurch library Tūranga wins major NZIA award

GEORGE HEARD/STUFF
A large crowd turned out for the official opening of Christchurch's new central library last October.

How does a new build compete with a significant heritage cathedral?

Architects Patrick Clifford and Carsten Auer of Architectus would say it's not a competition – designing a new public library for Christchurch was all about finding a contextural, bicultural design response that would resonate with the people of the city.

But the importance of the location on the square – the traditional heart of the city – was never underestimated. And it's that focus that has also helped ensure the latest of the city's post-earthquake "anchor projects" has taken out the top public architecture award at the 2019 NZIA Architecture Awards.

Tūranga, the new Christchurch public library designed by Architectus has won the NZIA John Scott Award for Public Architecture.
ADAM MORK
Tūranga, the new Christchurch public library designed by Architectus has won the NZIA John Scott Award for Public Architecture.

Tūranga has won the John Scott Award for Public Architecture and a separate Public Architecture Award at a function held in Queenstown on Saturday.

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In announcing the award, the NZIA judges described Tūranga as a "building of distinction that admirably fulfils its function as Christchurch's main library, and also, with its strong but not overbearing presence, makes a very important contribution to the shaping of the square and the signifying of the public realm of the central city".

The upper levels feature folding steel screens that reference the local geology, and the harakere flax that once grew in the marshes of Christchurch in pre-European days.
ADAM MORK
The upper levels feature folding steel screens that reference the local geology, and the harakere flax that once grew in the marshes of Christchurch in pre-European days.

Clifford says right from the outset the client (the library) engaged the public with a campaign to give everyone a voice, with the findings helping to determine the design.

Similarly, Architectus, who partnered with Danish public library specialist Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, collaborated with the Matapopore Charitable Trust, representing Ngāi Tuāhuriri.

"This was a key civic build in the sense of public participation and we wanted to continue that dialogue," Clifford says. "This building was always going to have the most public interior in the city. People needed to be able to come and go freely and enjoy the space, but we had no preconceived idea of what it would look like."

To retain the sense of openness and flow, the architects conceived the idea of an "urban carpet", making the ground level of the building an extension of the civic space, using the same materials underfoot. This helps avoid a sense of stepping over a threshold.

"There's also a high level of transparency at the base and on the first level that helps define this as a community arena," Auer says. "We've provided a formal gathering place and terraces on the upper levels that help set up a relationship and dialogue between the space and Cathedral Square."

Large, folded metal screens on the upper levels determine the formal language of the facade and reference the local geology. "The screens reflect the fold of the landscape and the colour of the  the hills and lower mountains," Auer says. "There's a play of light and colour, and a reference to harakeke flax, which is significant to Maori and traditional weaving. It's a flax that was found in the marshes of Christchurch in pre-European days."

Broad stairs that incorporate seating encourage visitors to make the journey up to the next level and beyond.
ADAM MORK
Broad stairs that incorporate seating encourage visitors to make the journey up to the next level and beyond.

The building also has a strong connection to significant distant landmarks. "Ngāi Tuāhuriri noted a number of physical points of reference in the landscape that inform the volume and the way the building is organised," Clifford says. "Terraces that appear as incisions on the upper levels are oriented to these landmarks, which include Banks Peninsula to the south and Maungatere to the north."

Inside, visitors are taken on a "journey" with a cultural narrative, with broad stairs leading up from the light-filled atrium to the main collections. The ascent is suggestive of mythical hero Tāwhaki's journey to the heavens.

The architects say most people use the stairs to experience the building, but often descend using the lift.

Plenty of attention has been given to the youth and children's areas on the first level. And it's not just about books and screens – there's even a Lego play area, and places where children can climb and be more physical, or retreat.

"The design responds to the drive to encourage learning in the broadest sense," Clifford says. "It's a recognition that learning occurs on many levels, including through play. Creating a vibrant hub, and providing children with a variety of experiences was very important to the library."

Colour is used throughout the library to help with wayfinding, and the furniture reflects the way the different spaces are used. On the lower levels, for example, chairs are lighter, and designed so people can "perch" for short periods. On the upper levels with the archives, which are more frequently visited by an older generation, the chairs are solid and encompassing.

Seating is positioned to maximise key outlooks and informal grouping.
ADAM MORK
Seating is positioned to maximise key outlooks and informal grouping.

First opened just over a year ago, Tūranga has had a million people through the doors in its first year of operation. The project also took out the Supreme Award in the prestigious Property Council New Zealand Rider Levett Bucknall Property Industry Awards 2019.

The construction firm for the project was Southbase Construction, founded in 2013 by former Hawkins Construction South Island executive Quin Henderson, and two of Christchurch's wealthiest property investors, Philip Carter and Ben Gough.

Lewis Bradford Consulting Engineers was the structural engineer. 

This side of the library looks out towards the cathedral.
ADAM MORK
This side of the library looks out towards the cathedral.

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