Once upon a time in Redcliffs

Once upon a time in Redcliffs add

It has enjoyed a long and illustrious history and it’s not hard to see why. The library: a parallel universe where adventurous imaginations are taken on magnificent voyages transcending time, geography and genre.

It is the enduring inspiration of this birthplace of ideas that provided the basis for the rebuild of an important asset in Christchurch - the Redcliffs Village Library. At the helm of this project was ADNZ member Greg Young of Young Architects.

Like the content of all great books, Redcliffs Village Library has a story rich in detail, and fortunately in this case, a very happy ending. The original library was erected in 1913. The second on the site was irreparably damaged in the February 2011 earthquake and subsequently demolished, leaving its loyal library committee in a very complicated situation.

“It had always been a community library but was gifted to the Christchurch City Council,” Young reveals. “The Council therefore owned it, but the library itself had a perpetual lease.”

A convoluted process with the release of insurance funds ensued before a way forward was identified. “A couple of the local councillors got involved and pushed approval across the line which allowed us to build the building we have there now.”

A member of the Mt Pleasant Community Group at the time, which was experiencing its own issues re-establishing a new community centre, Young was directly approached to lead the new library development.

“I was asked to come up with a design as part of the process and I knew it was about developing a building with context. In the past, libraries were used as halls and schools - they are simple, vernacular buildings by nature - and that’s the place I came from in the design.”

Be that as it may, the outcome was anything but ordinary - the aesthetic was richly infused with many layers of meaning.

“There is great joy in working with metaphors: the skin of the library was created to emulate the spine of a book with rolled flashings like the edges of a book, and each end is white like book pages. The exterior of the building is translucent polycarbonate which can light up at night. Its glow is symbolic of a lighthouse, which also represented a beacon of knowledge in ancient civilisations and a guide to a safe port and a place of refuge.

“A community building like this has real soul - people use libraries for pleasure, learning, knowledge and meeting. It is somewhere retirees can congregate and school children can study along with everyone in between.”

In light of this, Young appreciated the importance of creating a space with an emphasis on peace and calm. “We needed a soft environment with the right acoustics so on that basis we used a lot of timber - in the structure, the lining, the acoustic panelling. We used laminated timber portals and floors.”

With the focus firmly on the end-user and ensuring a low maintenance facility, all of the details were “well considered” by Young and the team, including the introduction of colour steel on the outside and insulated panelling.

It’s clear these considerations resonated far beyond just the community itself with the new library recently winning a merit award at the Property Industry Awards, only beaten by the Len Lye Centre and the ASB Waterfront Theatre in its category.

“We were blown away by how well it performed. The judges appreciated what we were doing and what it means to the people who are using it.”

Photography by Dennis Radermacher