danish architecture office schmidt hammer lassen and new zealand firm architectus have completed tūranga, a new, earthquake-resistant library in christchurch, new zealand. located at the center of the earthquake-damaged city’s redevelopment, the five-story building provides a 9,500 sqm public space that strengthens the local community and aims at drawing people back to the historic city center.
photos by adam mørk
over the course of 15 months in 2010 and 2011, christchurch, the largest city of new zealand’s south island, was devastated by four major earthquakes that toppled a city known for its arts, culture, and surrounding natural beauty. schmidt hammer lassen architects, together with collaborating firm architectus, have developed the new central library as a symbol of hope, unity, and rebirth, while thanks to an integrated, self-centering mechanism that allows the building to sway and then return to its original position, tūranga can sustain minimal structural damage during a large earthquake.
early in the design process, the architects collaborated with the matapopore charitable trust, an organization that ensures that the values, aspirations and narratives of the local ngāi tūāhuriri people are realized throughout the recovery of christchurch. the cultural representation in the library is first evident in the golden veil that cloaks the building in a striking, graphic façade, which intensifies at sunset with the day’s last rays. the vacillating form of the façade references the surrounding rolling hills, visible from the upper floors of the library, and the long, thick blades of the local harakeke flax, a fundamental natural resource for traditional cultural practices.
‘tūranga is the kind of multi-faceted project that layers architectural interest with significant cultural relevance,’ notes morten schmidt, founding partner at schmidt hammer lassen. ‘it has been a privilege to design a project that not only fulfills the need for a new central library, but also one whose mission of restoring the soul of the city includes the deep cultural heritage of ngāi tūāhuriri, the local māori people.’
on the ground floor, the library is designed as a continuation of the historic square, which is one of christchurch’s key public spaces for gatherings, events, markets, and performances. a café and a technology and innovation zone that features a seven-meter, state-of-the-art touchscreen wall welcome visitors as they enter, before reaching the reception area to encounter a graphic wall that depicts local birds on a journey of discovery. across the space at the main lift core, this design extends vertically upwards through all floors with multi-colored transitions of flora and fauna important to ngāi tahu, the local māori tribe.
the second level of the library houses a community arena, where the people of christchurch can gather to discuss, debate, share, and celebrate, as well as a children’s area which includes a reading cave and an activity room. the upper three floors house various book collections, staff offices, meeting and study rooms, a production studio, a computer lab, and a music studio among other functions. one of the two roof terraces is orientated to the north and northeast towards significant ngāi tūāhuriri landmarks including mount grey; tuahiwi, the rural settlement and locus of ngāi tūāhuriri activity; and hawaiiki, the ancestral homeland of new zealand māori located in the wider pacific. a second, south-facing terrace sets a strong relationship to christchurch cathedral and banks peninsula, and further south to the muttonbird islands and southern boundaries of ngāi tahu. the building’s five levels are connected by a large atrium that includes a social staircase for gathering, reading, and resting.
client: christchurch city council
lead design architect: schmidt hammer lassen architects
principal collaborating architect: architectus
main contractor: southbase construction
structural engineer: lewis bradford consulting engineers ltd
cultural consultants: matapopore charitable trust
building area: 9,500 m2
architecture in new zealand (34 articles)
library architecture and design (175 articles)
schmidt hammer lassen (63 articles)
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