Loving the Libraries

The new Turanga Library in Christchurch Square won this years John Scott NZIA Award for Public Architecture.

Danish public library specialist architects Scmidt, Hammer Lassen Architects designed this important addition to the Christchurch public facilities rebuild with assistance from local practice Architectus.

Its recognition richly deserved and in terms of public interaction it has over a million visitors in its first year of operation.

Malcolm Walker, one of the NZIA judges observed that ‘it even has some books in it’.

This is not a throwaway line. Libraries are now places for the social interaction of a wide range of cultures, religions and age groups. Coffee, food, Lego, photocopying, DVD hire, public computers and meeting rooms have all appeared, creating vibrant hubs for learning and innovation.

Visitors are taken on a visually exciting journey on broad stairs between the various levels, and angled toward different external landmarks and references the journey to the heavens taken by mythical hero Tawhaki. The veiled exterior reads like a cloak folded back to glimpse a magical interior,

There are several ‘new generation’ libraries appearing across the civilised world.

I came across the new Oosterdok (Amsterdam Central Library) on a tour there in 2017. With children’s book shelves arranged in enveloping circular layouts, it was a marvel of colour, water views, designer furniture, art ,and special variety.

On a visit to Sydney this year, out of interest in this important new building type, I visited three new libraries all dispelling the old,d ark musty’ image.

The first is in Darling Square in the Central City Area. Designed by the Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, it is described as an exciting hub of creativity,it is spread over two floors of a unique spiral building wrapped with over 20km of timber ribbons.  It has hands-on workshops featuring 3D design and printing, robotics and electronics to help start-ups and curious makers upskill, share knowledge and network. Open 7 days, aside from 30,000 books, there is also a colourful children’s area with bilingual storytime sessions.

The second was close by in the Marrickville area. Sited in historic Patyegarang Place, it features 1200m2 of landscaped outdoor gardens, an outdoor children’s playground, linked to generous internal spaces containing private study rooms and a café run by Marrickville’s Double Roasters. It is a highly contemporary design sympathetically integrated with conserved heritage elements of an original hospital building on the site. Wood replaces the familiar Sydney brickwork.A distinctive floating zig-zag canopy roof derives from the pitched roof of the original hospital building.

Architects BVN won a competition to design this environmentally sustainable design using recycled elements and reduced energy consumption systems,whilst catering for Marrickville’s diverse community to meet, sit, read and socialise. Multiple public events and activities from Tai Chi lessons to public Film Screenings occur regularly within the building and its garden. 4000 art history books previously in storage in the basement of the Marrickville Town Hall for 13 years and telling a rich historical story of Australia, occupy the second floor joining the 85,000 books in the main collection. There is even a first time, robotic collection system.

The final and possibly the best was this year’s Australian Institute of Architects and the UK Architectural Review Library Award winning ,Green Square Library.in Zetland. which opened in September this year. Designed by Stewart Hollenstein, it is located next to a train station and is a centre of focus for 60,000 surrounding residents. By placing the library mostly underground the architects created a generous plaza designed to be open and flexible accommodating a wide variety of events.

Of course I loved its use of the primary building blocks, the circle, the triangle and the rectangle. The triangle is a glass wedge entry leading downwards to the main library space, the central sunken garden and subterranean garden and amphitheatre. A series of 40 circular skylights bring natural light into the library. The separate rectangle is an elegantly transparent 5 floor tower with a double height reading room, computer, black box rooms, and community spaces.

Poetry slam, live music and interactive art add to the familiar activities described above which led to Malcolm Walker’s observation of the contemporary library.

We in Wellington were fortunate before all these libraries came along, to have Ian Athfield’s precursor, a series of marvellous open, flexible and beautiful spaces in one of the cities loveliest buildings. Lets hope it comes back to life soon.

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