Tūranga Christchurch Central Library – a celebration of culture and learning

The design of Christchurch's Tūranga Library is a graceful amalgamation of resilience, functionality and cultural awareness at the centre of the city’s redevelopment
Photography by: Adam Mørk
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Christchurch Central Library

Designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

Local principal collaborating architect – Architectus

Architect statement:

The Tūranga new central library project is one of nine anchor projects identified as vital to the redevelopment of Christchurch after the tragic events of 2010 and 2011. The new central library is a visually stunning symbol of hope, unity, and rebirth that will fundamentally change the way residents and visitors experience Christchurch’s city centre. 


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The new library next to one of the city's decimated landmarks.

Lewis Bradford Consulting Engineers, the structural engineering firm on the project, was instrumental in developing a structure that could withstand future potential earthquakes of the magnitude that destroyed so many of Christchurch’s buildings in 2011. 

Tūranga was constructed to very stringent performance criteria, and is designed to sustain minimal structural damage during a large earthquake thanks to an integrated, self-centering mechanism that allows the building to sway and then return to its original position.

Christchurch Central Library – large concrete walls are architecture, building, city, commercial building, condominium, corporate headquarters, daytime, downtown, facade, headquarters, metropolis, metropolitan area, mixed use, real estate, residential area, sky, urban area, blue, gray
Christchurch Central Library – large concrete walls are part of the building's seismic make-up.

Part of the innovative set up is a seismic force-resisting system made up of a series of large-scale concrete walls that can rock and shift to isolate the building from peak earthquake accelerations during a significant seismic event. 

Each wall has high tensile, pre-tensioned steel cables that clamp the wall to the foundations with approximately 1,000 tonnes of force per wall. 

The stretch of these cables return the building to its original position after an earthquake, ensuring the library will stand as a unifying landmark in Christchurch for generations to come.

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Christchurch Central Library 
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Christchurch Central Library – diagram 

The design of the five-storey, 9,500-square-metre library in Christchurch’s historic Cathedral Square supports the city’s desire for a public space that strengthens the community, advances literacy and lifetime learning, celebrates diversity of culture and heritage, draws people back to the city centre, and fosters innovation.

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Christchurch Central Library – cultural cladding

This cultural representation is first evident in the golden veil that cloaks the building in a striking, graphic façade. Its visual quality intensifies at sunset when the day’s last rays of light draw out a depth of sheen. 

The vacillating form of the veil is inspired by the surrounding rolling hills that can be seen from the upper floors of the library, and the long, thick blades of the local harakeke flax that is a fundamental natural resource for traditional cultural practices.

Christchurch Central Library – artistic collaboration architecture, facade, wall, gray
Christchurch Central Library – artistic collaboration

Early in the design process, the architects collaborated with Matapopore Charitable Trust, an organization whose objective is to ensure the values, aspirations and narratives of the local Ngāi Tūāhuriri people are realised throughout the recovery of Christchurch. 

Their influence on the design of the building is substantial—from building materials to physical orientation, there is a rich tapestry of ancestry, traditional knowledge, and culture woven throughout Tūranga.

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Christchurch Central Library – the open, inviting entrance evokes the important cultural concept of whakamanuhiri, the warm and welcoming ‘bringing-in’ of arriving visitors.

As library-goers approach the building, they are drawn into the informal, welcoming entrance that connects the library with Cathedral Square and surrounding buildings. 

The ground floor is a continuation of the public realm of the square, which is one of Christchurch’s key urban spaces for public gatherings, events, markets and performances.

Christchurch Central Library – a children’s reading cave architecture, building, daylighting, structure, gray, white
Christchurch Central Library – a children’s reading cave and an activity room.

In an effort to enhance the civic activities of Cathedral Square, the second level houses a Community Arena – a space for the people of Christchurch to discuss, debate, share, and celebrate. The Community Arena is expressed as a distinct volume within the form of the library, and is positioned to maximise its visual connection to the square. 

The second level of the library is also home to Ngā Purapura, a children’s area named for Ngāi Tahu ancestral traditions. Ngā Purapura includes a children’s reading cave and an activity room.

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Christchurch Central Library – five levels at a glance.

The building’s five levels are connected by a grand, staggered atrium featuring a social staircase for gathering, reading, and resting. The design of the atrium references Tāwhaki, a superhuman from ancestral traditions, and his determined pursuit of knowledge in his ascent through the heavens. Puaka, a significant star for the local Ngāi Tahu tribe, is referenced in the patterned skylights above the atrium.

Nov 13, 2018

Credit list

Size
9,500 m²
Client
Christchurch City Council
Principal collaborating architect
Architectus
Structural engineer
Lewis Bradford Consulting Engineers
Competition
Winner of contract in an international competition, 2013
Lead design architect
Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
Main contractor
Southbase Construction
Cultural consultants
Matapopore Charitable Trust
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