Tūranga, Christchurch, New Zealand

Designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
A Luminous Beacon of Renewal

Over the course of 15 months in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch, the largest city of New Zealand’s South Island, was devastated by four major earthquakes that toppled a city known for its arts, culture, and surrounding natural beauty. Shortly after, the city established the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan focused on 17 anchor projects that would become catalysts for development in the central city. The recovery effort is not simply about restoring what was there before the earthquakes, but rather making an even better city – which includes improving the social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing of greater Christchurch and its communities.

Tūranga, the new Christchurch Central Library, is the newest of the anchor projects to be completed and stands as a visually stunning symbol of hope, unity, and rebirth that will fundamentally change the way residents and visitors experience Christchurch’s city centre.
The library is one of the first public buildings to open in downtown Christchurch since the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

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 realised throughout the recovery of Christchurch. Their influence on the design of the building is substantial—from building 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 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.
The structural engineering on the project ensured the library could withstand future potential earthquakes of the magnitude that destroyed so many of Christchurch’s buildings in 2011. 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.