Wellington City Libraries

Te Matapihi Ki Te Ao Nui

The Architecture of the Central Library

Central Library, Wellington

The Central library is a vibrant place to visit and is recognised as one of Wellington's landmark buildings. Designed by Sir Ian Athfield (1940 - 2015) it is an award winning piece of architecture.

building under construction, 1The old library building (today the City Art Gallery), was by the late 1980's far too small to house the library's collections and services. The collections were spread over several locations in the city and some of the stock could not be displayed to the public.

As part of a broader scheme to redevelop the Civic Centre, the firm of Athfield architects drew up the plans for a new library building, incorporating features of accessibility, industrial design and the bold and extensive use of glass and water features. The building was constructed by Fletcher Development & Construction and opened in December, 1991. (You can listen to a lecture given by Sir Ian Athfield in 2011 about how the designs of the library and Civic Centre came about.)

building under construction, 1The Central library building is easily identifiable and the Wellingtonians have taken it to their hearts with pride. It occupies the city block between Harris, Victoria and Mercer Streets, is easily accessible from the street and incorporates modern design features such as the curving wall of glass facing Civic Square and the adjoining ponds. The surrounding colonnade and walkway offer inviting views of the interior. The imposing and heraldic nikau palms represent the original vegetation of the area and have become the library's trademark. The glass curtain wall allows in plenty of natural light and creates a visual link to the outside, with a superb view of the harbour and Civic Square (the "city to sea" concept.) The floor to ceiling windows allow customers to enjoy reading or studying in the natural light.

 

building under construction, 1As part of a broader scheme to redevelop the Civic Centre, the firm of Athfield architects drew up the plans for a new library building, incorporating features of accessibility, industrial design and the bold and extensive use of glass and water features. The building was constructed by Fletcher Development & Construction and opened in December, 1991. You can view a lecture given by Ian Athfield in 2011 about how the designs of the library and Civic Centre came about here.

building under construction, 1The central atrium of the building contains the steel escalator and stairway complex from which the size and range of library materials may be seen on the large, open plan floors. The interior is a mix of indigenous, classical and high tech elements - native woods fashioned to form reference desks, shuttered internal windows, Italianate tiled floors and balustrades made of steel. The stylised industrial look is indicated in the materials used - glass, metal, exposed pipes, support beams and pillars. The unusual combination of indigenous and exotic elements marry well with the interior. As a notable public building it has been an ideal setting to showcase the talents of local artists and crafts people. Some pieces include the "Decaying steel - the language of deconstructed reality" sculpture above the returns area on the ground floor, the "waka" information desk at the entrance and the the impressive "Bird Gate" which stands at the entrance of New Zealand/Maori area on the second floor.

The forward thinking design and functionality of the Central library has allowed it to remain fresh and modern, even though the building is more than twenty years old.

Images showing construction sourced from Wellington City Archives. Copyright Wellington City Council.

Awards

The library has won two New Zealand architectural awards:

  • The Environmental Award in the Carter Holt Harvey Awards 1992.
  • The National Award for Architecture 1993 sponsored by the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

Further reading

(Please ask at the New Zealand desk on the 2nd floor of the Central Library to view these items)

Wellington City Libraries' publication Opening windows on the wide world: Te Matapihi ki te Ao Nui

Radical departure
Bartley, Alison
New Zealand Home and Building, Apr/May 1992; p.88-91
Features the Public Library designed by Athfield Architects. (Index New Zealand)

NZIA-Resene National Awards for Architecture 1993
Architecture/New Zealand, May/Jun 1993; p.50-52 and 54-55
Highlights winners in the architectural awards - Wellington Public Library, by Athfield Architects. (adapted from Index New Zealand)

Halls of learning - Wellington Public Library
Packer, Ann
Pacific Way, Mar 1995; n.81:p.52-53
Looks at the building design of the Wellington Public Library. (adapted from Index New Zealand)

Athfields' tile style
Daniell, Tom
Architecture/New Zealand, Mar/Apr 1994; p.60-64
Looks at the use of tiles both inside and outside Wellington buildings by Athfield Architects. (Index New Zealand)

Library a talking point
Honey, Tommy
Architecture/New Zealand, Mar/Apr 1992; p.51-52
Comments on the new library building.(Index New Zealand)

Carter Holt Harvey architectural awards 1992
Architecture/New Zealand, Nov/Dec 1992; p.49-63
Gives a brief history of the architectural award programme. Describes the winning entries in the environmental, residential and heritage sections and lists other entries..(Index New Zealand)

New Zealand Commercial Design Trends Vol. 4, No. 1 1992: 68-72