Over the course of 15 months in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch, the largest city of New Zealand’s South Island, was devastated by major earthquakes that toppled a city known for its arts, culture, and natural beauty. Tūranga, the new central library, is the newest of nine anchor projects identified as vital to the redevelopment of the city. The building is a visually stunning symbol of hope, unity, and rebirth that will fundamentally change Christchurch’s city centre.
The design of the five-storey, 9,500-square-metre library in Christchurch’s historic Cathedral Square is substantially influenced by the NgāiTūāhuriri, the local Māori people — from materials, to physical orientation, there is a rich tapestry of ancestry, traditional knowledge, and culture woven throughout Tūranga.
This cultural representation is first evident in the golden veil that cloaks the building. Its vacillating form is inspired by the surrounding rolling hills, and the long, thick blades of the local harakeke flax that is a fundamental natural resource.
As library-goers approach the building, they are drawn into the informal, welcoming entrance. The second level houses a Community Arena space for discussion and celebration, and a children’s area named for NgāiTahu ancestral traditions.
Ascending further into the library, the upper three floors house various book collections, staff offices, meeting and study rooms, a production studio, a computer lab and roof terraces among other functions. The building’s five levels are connected by a grand, staggered atrium featuring a social staircase for gathering, reading, and resting.
The structural engineering firm on the project was instrumental in developing a structure that could withstand future potential earthquakes. Tūranga was constructed to very stringent performance criteria 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.