Libraries conjure specific expectations – hushed spaces filled with dark wood, floor-to-ceiling shelves of books, quiet patrons working or reading. But the new Tūranga Library in Christchurch defies these expectations and will reset your expectations for libraries.
Tūranga is a breath of fresh air for central Christchurch, a city that lost its library in 2011 earthquake. From Cathedral Square, the revolving doors ushered us into a new sort of space, a light-filled digital hub, a world away from the dark rows of bookshelves we expected.
From the outside, Tūranga projects strength. Opened in late 2018, the building is huge, and shines in the sun. The golden aluminium veils were inspired by the flax (harakeke) that grows on the Canterbury Plains. Like the flax in the wind, the library sways, but the tensioned concrete walls and steel core keep the building firmly anchored in place.
When entering the building, it is impossible not to notice the wide steps first, inviting visitors to climb them, explore and imagine. Once up the steps, nature light pours into the atrium and it’s easy to marvel, especially when your gaze reaches up to the crossed staircases far above. After we’d gotten an eyeful, we swiped across the interactive screen filled with images of the four corners of Christchurch. Behind each picture is a glimpse of history, with photographs of the city and its people. In addition to this feature, the ground floor also has a technology centre, as well as a café serving up an assortment of beverages and snacks on sustainable paper goods.
The first floor is a humming family space, filled with hands-on activities and even a large spiral slide. Nursery rhymes drifted out from behind a curtained off space, we watched the construction happening in the Lego pits and then lost a game against a robot.
Around each corner, there is more to do and learn, with a virtual reality studio, a recording studio, a foosball table, a 3D printer, craft equipment including sewing machines and art displays. There are also gaming machines, meeting rooms, study booths, desks in nooks, and a theatre. Which had us asking, ‘Where are the books’?
After a ride in the lift, we finally found them. The fiction collection is housed at the very top of the building, near the roof terraces and gardens, which are definitely worth a visit, even if there’s a cold wind. From the terrace, we had a great view of the cathedral with its damaged tower below, and trams inching past. Looking farther, we caught a glimpse of the Port Hills, whose folded shape inspired the aluminium facade of the building. There are surprises, too – we were able to see a wonderful piece of street art called ‘Girl on a Brick Wall’ by artist Rone looks out at the city, in hope.
Overall, Tūranga Library is a community space meant to foster interactivity and sharing. It is a space made with comfort in mind – there are myriad spots for reading, from a cushion inside a tree to comfortable seats on the stairs. But other pastimes are welcome, too. While we were there, a man watched the television, another, headphones in, was charging his phone. We were drawn to the huge windows, and chose one of the sunny tables around the edges. It was perfect for sipping a latte and watching the people on the street. The café used all sustainable plates and cutlery, too.
Tūranga is a beautiful heart to the city, and has redefined what a library means in the 21st century.