Community library for 21st century has a domestic scale, with crafted cedar wood exterior

New Devonport Library has veranda-style canopy, multiple entries, cedar exterior, soaring interior volume with exposed columns and beams, ply ceilings

The new Devonport Library reflects a crafted, semi-residential architecture, building, facade, home, house, real estate, residential area, black
The new Devonport Library reflects a crafted, semi-residential design response from Athfield Architects. Key features include a large veranda-style canopy addressing the main street, and multiple entry points.

For those who have predicted the digital age means the end of libraries, there's ample proof this is not the case.

But it is fair to say libraries have changed they have become much more outward-looking as they continue to take an active role within the community. At the same time, however, there is a domestic scale to the modern library, which is more of a home away from home than a conventional formal civic building.

The new Devonport Library Te Pataka Korero O Te Hau Kapua designed by Athfield Architects, needed to be approachable and accessible, and it needed to ensure Auckland Libraries could deliver their new 21st-century service model.

Architect Nick Strachan says the design team looked to create a new model for a library.

"The historic library is invariably a sanctuary with a formal entry below a parapet, and a reception greeting point. We wanted to change this, to provide a much more open, inviting building with multiple access points and a long veranda on the western side that addresses the main street."

The library, which occupies a prime site in Windsor Park, close to the harbour, also reaches out towards the park and the views.

"The building needed to encourage community interaction. There are places where people can sit on the outside of the building, and large windows that highlight the activity within."

Timber, including ply panels and glue-laminated beams, features architecture, cottage, home, house, plant, real estate, tree, brown
Timber, including ply panels and glue-laminated beams, features on both the exterior and interior of the new Devonport Library designed by Athfield Architects. Unlike the traditional library model, this library opens to the outdoors and visitors are encouraged to use the courtyard.

Strachan says the concept of a pavilion in the park that could be approached from all sides was first proposed during early consultations with the local community.

"We extended this concept to create a building with a highly crafted look and an emphasis on natural timbers the exterior is cedar. This is a design response to the site, its context and the historical vernacular. Many of the older buildings in this area feature verandas and timber fretwork. The fretwork is referenced in the timber batten sunscreen that wraps around the clerestory windows."

Vertical cedar blades around the perimeter of the building continue the fretwork reference.

Strachan says the building is closely aligned with the footprint of the former library building that stood on the site. A rounded corner facing the harbour establishes the building's presence in relation to the ferry terminal beyond.

The concept of a new model for a library is equally evident on the interior, which presents a welcoming, domestic scale.

"Parts of the library resemble a living room space, with armchairs and fireplaces," the architect says. "There is no dominant front-of-house service area. The setting is more comfortable and relaxed than in a traditional library. But there is a hierarchy of spaces some are lively and active, while other areas, such as the mezzanine level, are quieter, more intimate zones."

The main collections area is a soaring volume with a plywood ceiling and exposed glue-laminated timber posts, beams and portal frames.

An old love seat from the original Devonport institution, interior design, library, public library
An old love seat from the original Devonport Library has found a home in the new building designed by Athfield Architects.

"This was fundamental to the crafted timber design response," says Strachan.

The children's area has a lowered ceiling and furniture of a smaller scale. Curved, organic-shaped plywood elements wrap the walls and ceiling, providing a visual connection with the natural world, and helping provide acoustic insulation.

Key collected artworks, including a collection of terracotta relief tiles by artist Barry Brickell, have been integrated into the building design, so they can be appreciated more fully.

Not surprisingly, sustainability was another key driver for the design. In addition to passive design features, including ample natural light and shade canopies, the library has an energy-efficient water-based slab heating system. The system is laid within a floating screed on top of the slab, so it heats faster and more efficiently.

Allison Dobbie, Auckland Council's general manager libraries and information, says the new library is attracting nearly twice the average number of visitors each month.

"This building responds to changes in customer expectations of self service, digital and e-book delivery, and provides spaces for people to meet, relax and think.

"We cannot underestimate the impact of good design and physical spaces on the customer experience. Great architecture inspires great human endeavour as does great art, and there are fine examples of both in this building."

Credit list

Devonport Library – Te Pataka Korero O Te Hau Kapua, Auckland
Athfield Architects Limited – Jon Rennie, Nick Strachan, Lottie Vandervis, Suzy Martin
Project manager
Sarah Livingstone, The Building Intelligence Group
EDS/sustainability consultant
Scott Smith
Soft landscaping
Natural Habitats
Suspended ceilings
Alpha Auckland
Timber joinery
KBL Joinery
Ply panels
Cedartech by Plytech
Door supplier
Doors ‘n’ More
Schindler Lifts (NZ)
Auckland Council Libraries
Landscape architects
Nick Jones, Martin Bryant, Wraight & Associates
Structural/services/hydraulics/civil consultant
Main contractor
Naylor Love
Aluminium joinery, curtain wall
Architectural Window Solutions
Acoustic panels
Vertical cedar screen system
Rosenfeld & Kidson
Extra-Tred in black from Advanced Flooring; vinyl flooring and carpet tiles by Comfloor; flat deck metal flooring by Composite Floor Decks
Door hardware
Hardware Direct
Security and CCTV
ACS Services

Story by: Colleen Hawkes

17 Jun, 2015

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