August 12, 2019
Issue 09 2019

Save it or scrap it? 

A public meeting to discuss the fate of the Wellington public library was held late last month, with all guest speakers in support of saving the building through strengthening and remedial work.  


The library closed suddenly on March 19, following advice from engineers that it may not be safe in the event of an earthquake. 


It has remained closed ever since.  


The meeting discussed the future of the library as a part of Civic Square and the cluster of buildings surrounding it, described by Gordon Moller as the “cultural, government and social centre of Wellington.” 


Moller, a past-President and Gold Medallist of the Institute of Architects, said, “to demolish would be to erode a fine piece of urban design.” 


The building has no current damage from previous earthquakes but was closed on the knowledge that it would be at risk in the event of a ‘significant’ earthquake.  


Leading structural engineer Adam Thornton said that there are issues with the frames of the building as well as the secondary structure such as the stairs, but such issues could be solved techniques such as bracing.  


He said the decision to close the library was “quite a conservative assessment but necessarily so.”


If strengthening were to go ahead, the building would be able to be opened back up to the public while remediations took place in stages, said Thornton. 


City Councilor Iona Pannett said that the building currently sits on reclaimed land and is in danger of impending sea level rise.  


“We need all the expertise we can get,” she said.


“This is a democracy obviously and we need to have the input of many stakeholders, don’t leave it passively for the council to make the decision.” 


The building has an interesting background culturally as well as architecturally, being the first public building in New Zealand to have bilingual signage. 


Ken Davis, who was part of the team of architects that designed the library, said the building is “flexible, adaptable, robust and durable, even iconic.” 


The library was designed by Sir Ian Athfield in the late 1980’s and opened in 1991.

A pop-up library is open on Manners Street while the council come to a final decision.