Schmidt Hammer Lassen and Architectus Design Earthquake-Resistant Library in Christchurch

Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects and Architectus have announced the opening of Tūranga, the new central library for Christchurch, New Zealand. Built to address the earthquakes that damaged Christchurch in 2010 and 2011, the library is one of the first public buildings to open downtown after the disasters. Working with Architectus and the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand’s South Island, the design was made to celebrate rebirth in Christchurch.

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Tūranga Library, Christchurch. Image © Adam Mørk

Built with attention to resilience, functionality and cultural awareness, Tūranga rises at the center of the earthquake-damaged city’s redevelopment. As one of nine anchor projects identified as vital to the redevelopment of the city, the five-story, 9,500-square-meter library in the historic Cathedral Square was made to support the city’s desire for public space. The entrance was made to evoke the important cultural concept of whakamanuhiri, the warm and welcoming ‘bringing-in’ of arriving visitors. Here, the reception wall includes multi-colored transitions of flora and fauna important to Ngāi Tahu, the local Māori tribe.

Tūranga Library, Christchurch. Image © Adam Mørk

“Tūranga is the kind of multi-faceted project that layers architectural interest with significant cultural relevance,” said Morten Schmidt, Founding Partner at Schmidt Hammer Lassen, lead designers of the library. “It has been a privilege to design a project that not only fulfills the need for a new central library, but also one whose mission of restoring the soul of the city includes the deep cultural heritage of Ngāi Tūāhuriri, the local Māori people.”

Tūranga Library, Christchurch. Image © Adam Mørk

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 realized throughout the recovery of Christchurch. Their influence on the design of the building includes everything from building materials to physical orientation, tying together ancestry, traditional knowledge, and culture woven throughout Tūranga. This cultural representation is 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.

Tūranga Library, Christchurch. Image © Adam Mørk
Tūranga Library, Christchurch. Image © Adam Mørk

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. 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 a music studio among other functions. 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.

Tūranga Library, Christchurch. Image © Adam Mørk

Several points in the Canterbury landscape, including the Southern Alps and the Banks Peninsula, are visible from the upper levels of the library and drove the placement and orientation of the roof terraces. One of the two roof terraces is orientated to the north and northeast towards significant Ngāi Tūāhuriri landmarks including Mount Grey; Tuahiwi, the rural settlement and locus of Ngāi Tūāhuriri activity; and Hawaiiki, the ancestral homeland of New Zealand Māori located in the wider Pacific. A second, south-facing terrace sets a strong relationship to Christchurch Cathedral and Banks Peninsula, and further south to the Muttonbird Islands and southern boundaries of Ngāi Tahu.

Lewis Bradford Consulting Engineers, the structural engineering firm on the project, worked with the team to develop a structure that could withstand future potential earthquakes. 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. 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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Cite: Eric Baldwin. "Schmidt Hammer Lassen and Architectus Design Earthquake-Resistant Library in Christchurch" 16 Oct 2018. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

Tūranga Library, Christchurch. Image © Adam Mørk


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