Save our unique library

A wonderful event a couple of weeks ago on the date of Ath’s birthday (he would have been79) was organised by the NZIA, seeking to guage public sentiment and offer supporting efforts to save Wellington’s iconic library building.

After Judy Keith’s excellent introduction, Gordon Moller Spoke eloquently of the history of the Civic Square development with its library anchor. The closing of the eastern end of Mercer St. was the genesis.

Ken Davis, who worked closely with Ath, explained the birth and gestation of the design with its north and west walls solid walls standing up to the rectangular street edges and loosening to a glazed soft coastal curve on the east side toward the square. Ken emphasised its future proof adaptability to future changing library thinking, anticipating those of demolition mentality who justify their vandalism by saying ’a new build is an opportunity to build to the needs of the day’. Yes that’s right, but what of the needs of the next day?

Ken’s intimacy with the process revealed two things unknown to me. I knew from public debate about the budget, that the nikau columns were cheaper than real nikaus of the same size, but I did not know they were inspired by Ath’s and Rewi Thompson’s collaborations with Frank Gehry in LA as they worked on their entry for the Te Papa design competition.

Despite the incompetent judges, who didn’t even shortlist their entry, at least a remnant of their brilliant submission came to fruition.

Ken’s other revelation was the story of Ath’s 3.00am inspired magnificent sweeping ramp both containing in cupped hand the northern side of the civic square, and providing Wellington’s longest disabled ramp which climbs 6.0m vertically to the city to sea bridge over Jervois Quay.

The third speaker was Adam Thornton, one of the ace structural engineers of our parish, who’s firm facilitated the Museum Hotel’s wheel borne crossing of Victoria its present location.

Adam said simple angle steel additions fixed to the sides of the primary beams to widen the seating of the library’s precast flooring panels, would limit the ‘drift’ of such flooring ,strengthening the building sufficient for earthquake resilience compliance and a pretty prompt re-occupation. Its existing basement carpark enables pretty simple base isolation of the primary frame to get an even higher seismic rating.

The final speaker should have been either of the two ‘merry ells’ Lavery or Lester, but both were no shows. Iona Pannett from the Council bravely attended, acknowledging the public interest in saving the building. After discounting the architects and engineers that were in attendance, there were several hundred passionate library users with strong withdrawal symptoms.

The library is much loved, and universally regarded as very beautiful, some describing it as the ‘city’s living room’ which used to average 3000 visitors a week.

Being a politician, Iona was concerned for the pockets of the ratepayers, but she did acknowledge that the demolition and rebuild option would be much dearer and more disruptive.

She had a side issue on the effects of ‘inevitable’ sea level rise on the building .Adam had already explained that base isolation would enable the building to be lifted.

As to predicted environmental events, I remember the days when the rapidly expanding hole in the ozone layer was going to microwave us all. But the simple removal of CFC’s in aerosols saw it shrink back to its original size. OK then Lambton Quay was formerly a curvy waterfront , but the reclamation of land to the east suggest that our pattern of earthquakes is lifting the land. Navigating Lambton Quay by boat in the future is highly unlikely.

While we are on the subject of Ath’s buildings, I have to also note the precarious future of his wonderfully expressive Arlington residential tower which is similarly being targeted as ‘earthquake risk’.

Because Lavery and Lester work at snail’s pace on the cities various projects, and maybe because at least one of them won’t survive the upcoming Local Body elections, there will be enough time to mount a sturdy rebuttle of the negativities of the demolition crowd.

Let’s keep the pressure on the timely repair and re-occupation of our beloved library. The Council’s official ‘it’s at least a year away’, is simply too long.


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