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Our new city library

Opening officially on October 12, Turanga has already struck a chord with architect Richard Dalman.

Finally, after all the post-earthquake delays, we are now getting some action around Cathedral Square. The Convention Centre is well underway, as is the Spark building on the old BNZ site. The proposed 9CS building on the old ANZ site is proceeding through council consenting stages, and it is this building, designed by Shigeru Ban (architect of our internationally renowned Transitional Cathedral), that I am most looking forward to. I will be writing about these buildings over the coming months.

While the completion of these buildings is still a way off, we can now experience and celebrate the Square’s new shining light, Turanga, the recently opened central library. The design of the Turanga building (one of the anchor projects of the CERA Blueprint) has been completed as a joint venture between another world-renowned architectural practice, Schmidt Hammer Lassen from Denmark, and New Zealand’s Architectus.

This $95-million 10,000-square-metre building, located in the northern section of Cathedral Square and extending to Colombo and Gloucester Streets, is more than just a library in the traditional sense. It is really a multi-use community building. Turanga responds to the changing role of libraries in today’s society and particularly in relation to Christchurch’s needs. It has been designed to become a social hub for the community to access and share knowledge. It is a building that is welcoming, that reflects its place in the city and region, is representative of the community it serves, and has an emphasis on attracting younger people.

The council’s goal is to “foster lifelong learning and [for Turanga] to be the place for information, inspiration and
entertainment”. A citywide goal for this building is to bring people back into the central city – it is anticipated that 1200 people per day will come through its doors. Turanga includes creative spaces for music and film, meeting
rooms, performance and exhibition spaces, children’s play areas, quiet reading zones, outdoor terraces, and a café. There will be the usual free Wi-Fi, computers for public use, and digital media walls, but there is also an innovation zone for trialling new technologies, along with 3D printing.

I’m sounding a bit like a council media release... so what makes this building special architecturally? For good architects, achieving all the functional aspects, such as ease of use for the public and staff – making the building
‘work’ – is difficult but not the real challenge. What I am more interested in is the ‘hard stuff’, the meaningful architectural questions that this building puts to me and its users:

• Why does it appear to float off the ground?
• Why does the Cathedral Square seem to flow through the
building’s ground floor to Gloucester Street?
• Why is it gold?
• And what about those three-storey high angular ‘curtain’

Turanga is designed with strong Maori references, in particular pataka – a traditional Maori storehouse on posts. Turanga, a modern-day pataka, is a storehouse of knowledge. It appears to float above the ground in a similar manner. Turanga allows for the ‘floor’ of Cathedral Square – its ‘urban carpet’ – to continue through to Gloucester Street. This connection encourages a shortcut, a free-flow through the building. The more connected, accessible and open a building is, generally the more it will be used.

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