Wellington Scoop

Saving it and making it safe


The chair of the Wellington branch of the Institute of Architects has stated a strong case for keeping the Central Library and not demolishing it.

Writing in the DomPost this week, Angela Foster said it was concerning that the option seemingly favoured by the council was the most extreme one – demolition.

We don’t know who is advising the mayor and council. But I hope someone in the civic circle is making the point that it is possible both to save a building and make it safe. Any decision about the fate of our main library should take into account the true value of the building and the real costs of the alternative solutions – destruction and replacement, or retention and rehabilitation.

And she went on

The Central Library is important for several reasons. For a start, it is that relatively rare thing – a genuinely popular public building. It is liked and admired because, for nearly 30 years, it has combined functional excellence and formal appeal. The building’s row of nikau columns is an iconic urban feature and perfectly expresses Wellington’s image of itself as a serious place with a fun side…

While the Central Library is significant because of what it is and who designed it, there’s another reason to value the building. It’s an outstanding example of the architecture of its era, a postmodern milestone in the continuum of Wellington architecture that stretches from the mid-19th century to the present day. Knocking down the library would be like ripping out a chapter in a book. The removal of the building would leave a hole in the city’s heritage.

Demolition, she said, would also incur an inevitable environmental cost.

Finding a way to save the Central Library would be a good start for the council on its urgent journey to a carbon-free future.

There’s another issue, too, which some people are starting to discuss. It’s the council’s sudden decision to close the building. In Palmerston North, they’ve also got a seismically challenged library, but they’re keeping it open. The Manawatu Standard reports:

The heritage building, which has housed the library for more than 22 years, meets only 20 to 25 per cent of new building standards, a detailed seismic assessment has shown. But for now, the library and its George St tenants’ doors remain open for business, most of them saying they are not worried about the label. Notices will go up at the doors to warn people it is 10 to 25 times more likely to fail in an earthquake than buildings meeting 100 per cent of the new standards.

Options for Palmerston North’s library building include strengthening, partly demolishing and retaining the heritage facades, demolishing and rebuilding on the site, or building somewhere else. The council’s chief executive says the library is the most popular service the council provides and the public will be consulted before decisions are made.

The architecture of Wellington’s Central Library


  1. Harry M, 16. June 2019, 13:51

    I would say it’s safe enough for use, no building is going to be safe in a large earthquake. The Council seems to be always choosing the most expensive option for ratepayers.

  2. Helene Ritchie, 16. June 2019, 14:11

    Our library, a civic hub with multiple uses, must be fixed, saved and opened again. It is an essential part of our civic centre, the heart of the Capital.
    A Capital without this Central library is symbolic of a Capital which has lost its soul.

  3. Polly, 16. June 2019, 15:28

    Couldn’t agree more Helene, the Library is a civic hub not to mention Clarke’s Café! So quiet and loved by Wellingtonians and visitors. And to think we almost lost the Town Hall.

  4. michael, 16. June 2019, 19:12

    WCC does not seem concerned about protecting Wellington’s heritage. Check the WCC Planning for Growth scenarios to note how the questions were guided towards stacking as many people as possible in the city throughout Mt Cook, Te Aro etc. So, don’t be surprised if developers start bulldozing down character homes to put up soul-destroying high-rise buildings. And even the homes that survive are likely to be dominated by huge buildings around them which will destroy the character of the city. [It’s encouraging to note that Andy Foster lists ‘character protection’ as one of the council’s concerns.]

  5. Andy Foster, 16. June 2019, 20:41

    Hi Michael – personally I think protection of heritage is enormously important. So is heritage character. Different councillors will have different views. Iona is also a strong advocate for heritage. I brought in the pre 1930s protection rules in the first place, initially for Thorndon, Aro Valley and Mt Victoria and the later to Newtown, Mt Cook and Berhampore. It was because there is such a high degree of character coherence (generally approx 90% of dwellings are pre 1930) and these suburbs add so much to Wellington’s special character. Changes should be made only with care.

    The pre 1930s rules don’t prevent demolition, but do require resource consent before demolition is allowed. Anybody seeking to demolish a pre 1930s building in those areas needs to demonstrate that what they propose to build is going to fit in with / enhance the streetscape. That has certainly been a critically important protection.

    Kind regards, Andy

  6. Donald T., 16. June 2019, 22:15

    Why no protection for Erskine College? Wasn’t that building heritage listed?

  7. Independent, 17. June 2019, 3:52

    Andy the library is not pre 1930! It’s less than 30 years old.

  8. michael, 17. June 2019, 9:49

    The answer is very simple – ensure the council legally protects our iconic buildings and areas (such as the library and civic square) for future generations, and we will stay the “coolest little capital in the world”

  9. Tony Jansen, 17. June 2019, 12:38

    This Mayor and many of the councillors have adopted a policy of appeasement to major developers, and demolition by stealth or inertia. Erskine is a case in point. The Chinese Embassy site another. Civic Square will be next unless the citizens of this city get energised and stand up to our City Council.
    As for the Planning for Growth survey… biased, double barrel questions, ridiculous pathways and choices that prevented any reply other than the one the Council was looking for. It was insulting to see this trotted out as an example of engaging with the public.
    No wonder people cannot be bothered engaging with this Council. I have not seen something this unprofessional put into the public sphere for eons.
    To be honest I’d give a formal warning to all involved. Disgraceful.

  10. Marion Leader, 17. June 2019, 12:39

    Has the Chapel at Erskine been reinforced yet?

  11. KB, 17. June 2019, 13:01

    Are we seriously discussing whether a building from the 1990s is a heritage building and so shouldn’t be demolished? It has been established that the building is a death trap in a large earthquake. Demolish it and rebuild it to match the current look for those people (including myself) who like the current building. Then you have the best of both worlds – a building that looks identical to the current one, but has the improved engineering to make it well above 100%+ of the building safety code. If the current building can be retrofitted to bring it up to the same safety standard as a new build, then fine do that. If not, simply demolish and rebuild, seems obvious. Either way you end up with an identical looking building – so please chose the option where people are less likely to get killed please. No one sane thinks 30 year old bricks are more important than human lives.

  12. michael, 17. June 2019, 13:36

    Tony = absolutely agree with you. The questionnaire was biassed, but this was about being able to say they consulted the public. Last year was the same thing for the Annual Plan = so nothing changes. The proposed removal of the Dixon Street/Victoria Street little park consultation is a prime example. The consultation in April about removing the park occurred AFTER they gave Willis Bond resource consent to build on it in 2017 . . . . another pointless exercise for the public who believed they were having a say!

  13. CPH, 17. June 2019, 21:16

    Based on how long it’s taken the WCC to finally get around to doing anything about the Town Hall, I predict it will be five years before they stop wringing their hands and a full decade before they manage to take any action. The sea level rise will have swamped the place about ten minutes before the official reopening, given that the glaciers move faster than the council does these days.

  14. Northland, 17. June 2019, 23:32

    Is this building really a ‘death trap’ (KB)? It was considered safe up until only a few months ago. How can our imprecise knowledge and science of building earthquake resilience ever really arrive at a definitive judgement?

    There is a risk presented by this building sure, but (1) the margin of error in quantifying the risk is huge (apparently, we’ve gone from ‘completely safe’ to ‘death trap’ in 30 years) and (2) how does the risk stack up against other risks people encounter in their daily lives e.g. driving, crossing roads, living in damp / cold and underinsulated homes etc etc.

  15. michael, 18. June 2019, 2:48

    It’s either suddenly become dangerous or not, or there’s a hidden WCC agenda for its future.

  16. Independent, 18. June 2019, 9:21

    Good points Northland!
    This building, our loved library, went from not earthquake prone to “death trap” overnight!
    Thirty years ago it was built in accordance with the then law and complied, as it does today. Even the heavy books did not budge it or its floors through the many earthquakes since.

  17. KB, 18. June 2019, 11:54

    The new earthquake danger identified in the library was due to the discovery of a flawed construction method identified for the first time following the Kaikoura quakes (see the Stats NZ Building where the concrete floors collapsed.) The re-rating is most definitely warranted – you won’t find any qualified engineer arguing that fact.

  18. Bernard C, 18. June 2019, 14:28

    With its “fit for purpose” construction, it was not damaged by the Kaikoura earthquakes.