Wellington Scoop

Save it or scrap it? Public meeting on fate of Central Library


News from NZIA
Save it, or scrap it? A public meeting is to be held on Monday to discuss the fate of the Wellington Central Library, which is closed while the city council considers what to do with the seismically vulnerable building.

The meeting, which will take place on Monday 15 July at 6pm in the auditorium of the National Library, 70 Molesworth Street, has been organised by the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

Angela Foster, chair of the Institute’s Wellington branch, said the event is a response to concerns that the mayor and council are contemplating the demolition of the 30-year-old building.

“The Central Library is an important building, and one that is fondly regarded by Wellingtonians,” Foster said. “It is a valuable civic resource, an iconic element in the cityscape, and an outstanding work by the most celebrated Wellington architect of the past 50 years, Sir Ian Athfield.”

“It is totally appropriate that the library has been closed while its condition is appraised, but it is essential that all options for its future are properly investigated and honestly compared.”

“Saving and rehabilitating the library is one of the options. It may well be possible to do this, and because adaptation of an existing building is a more sustainable solution than demolition and replacement, this option would be consistent with the Council’s goal of a ‘zero-carbon capital city’.”

The public meeting will feature presentations addressing the Central Library’s design history and architectural significance, and its structural condition and possible means of remediation.

The speakers will be Gordon Moller, a past-President and Gold Medallist of the Institute of Architects and an architect of Wellington’s Civic Square; Ken Davis, an architect who worked on the Central Library project; Adam Thornton, a founder of engineering firm Dunning Thornton and one of New Zealand’s most accomplished structural engineers; and City Councillor Iona Pannett, Portfolio Lead: Infrastructure and Sustainability, Wellington City Council.

The meeting will be chaired by Judi Keith-Brown, President-Elect of the Institute of Architects.

When: Monday 15 July, 6pm – 7.30pm
Where: Auditorium, National Library, 70 Molesworth Street, Thorndon, Wellington

Earlier News from NZIA
The Wellington Branch of the NZ Institute of Architects is to stage a public meeting on the fate of the Wellington Central Library, the Ian Athfield-designed building that has been closed for seismic reasons by the Wellington City Council.

Why? There has been speculation in the media that the Council may be leaning towards the demolition of the building, although no decision has been announced. At the meeting, perspectives on the building’s context, condition, design merit and options for its future will be covered in presentations by:

Architects Gordon Moller and Ken Davis, structural engineer Adam Thornton, and City Councillor Iona Pannett (Portfolio Lead, Infrastructure and Sustainability). The meeting will be MC’d by Judi Keith-Davis, President-Elect of the NZIA. The meeting will be on Monday 15 July at 6pm in the National Library Auditorium, 70 Molesworth Street.

This report was first published on 7 July.

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  1. Leviathan, 6. July 2019, 12:54

    The way I look at it, it is pretty obvious that the building can be repaired – that’s just a question of cost. Every single plank of precast concrete would need to have remedial work done to it, for a start – a steel angle bolted through the adjacent beam. That’s not too hard – just tedious and repetitive. And there will be more work besides that – but the general principle is that, yes, it can be saved. But on the other side of the question, it’s a matter of: Yes, but is it worth it? If it is cheaper to knock it down and start again, why wouldn’t you do that? Especially if you were going to get a better, safer, stronger building out of it in the end? [More on eyeofthefish]

  2. Mary M, 6. July 2019, 13:14

    We didn’t build a Library to be safe in an earthquake, we built it to hold books which are then loaned out. Geologists know know full well no building is safe in an earthquake, engineers don’t know or deny it, as their livelihood is in this new yellow-sticker industry. It has proved its safety by withstanding a big earthquake with zero damage. To be “fit for use” means it just has to be safe for everyday use, not try to be “safe” in disasters/earthquakes/tsunami/cyclones/zombie apocalypses.

    It’s pretty clear the Council want the most expensive option, and the engineers involved probably want lots of work done too.

  3. Leviathan, 6. July 2019, 14:29

    Mary M – absolute rubbish, and shame on you for saying that. Engineers don’t want it demolished in order to get extra work – they have more than enough work to be going on with. A building which is home to about 3000 visitors a day has to be safe to use for all their users, and that absolutely includes being safe during: “disasters /earthquakes /tsunami /cyclones” although I do agree that “zombie apocalypses” does not appear in the Building Act.

    You’ve seen the howling of outrage from the public at one engineer in Christchurch whose building was fine and safe during everything except the magnitude 7.1 quake that brought the CTV building down, killing 115 people. That building had a fault that meant it was unsuitable in a certain sized earthquake – and those people paid the ultimate price.

    Nobody wants that situation to happen in Wellington – neither engineers, nor architects, nor the Council, nor the public. Go along to the meeting next week and have a listen to the people who do, actually, know what they are talking about.

  4. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 6. July 2019, 15:08

    I’ve heard several people say, “we’re happy to take the risk, we’re only in there for 10 minutes occasionally to get a book”! What about the librarians, who would be in there 8 hours a day?

    We need a safe central public library. Whether it’s a strengthened one or a new one remains to be seen.

  5. Leslie Orchard, 6. July 2019, 20:17

    There are over one hundred people working for the council with salaries of over $100k! So what do they do? They sit on their arses while council buildings are closed for renovation yet if they had been on to it this would never have happened. Look at the town hall all those millions spent on consultants!

  6. B Wilson, 6. July 2019, 22:02

    The WCC are saying everything & nothing. I do not believe for a second that we would get a suitable rebuild if demolition is the decision. The council & regional council, with overdue work on bldgs in the area, are already out of their depth. The council does not have the ability to do their basic job let alone this type of work which is beyond them. The elections are soon and we should be careful who we vote into office. This is not work for Greens or Bikers. The immediate future of out city depends on it.

  7. Linnit, 7. July 2019, 8:55

    I find it hard to believe that in this day & age a suitable solution cannot be found for this building. Are our professionals scared or is it all the red tape? We simply cannot afford to go through all this business every time we have a shake.

  8. Harry Welsford, 7. July 2019, 9:02

    Totally agree with you Mary. CCF Why take the risk to enter any building/house in case an earthquake happens? [Check the comment above from Leviathan.]

  9. CPH, 7. July 2019, 9:42

    I really don’t mind if they prop it up or push it over, but it will take a decade or more for this council to make a decision! Look how long the town hall and the convention centre and light rail and Frank Kitts Park and every other project they’ve ever touched take to get anywhere.

  10. Stuart Gardyne, 7. July 2019, 18:03

    … upgrades have been done to numerous buildings already with little fuss. Can anyone recall a building in Wellington that has, since the Kaikoura earthquake, been demolished due to the risk of future failure rather than from sustaining actual damage? I am surprised to hear that the vacating of the building has occurred and the suggestion of demolition is being considered for a building that is no more dangerous today than is was when it was first built. It is no more dangerous now than it it was any time in its nearly thirty years of occupation. Or to put it another way – it is just as safe today as it has been for the last thirty years. [from eyeofthefish]

  11. Leviathan, 7. July 2019, 18:06

    The engineering assessment of the Central Library “identifies that pre-cast concrete floors are used extensively and the building design provides for floor seatings of 50mm. The new guidelines provide that this width of seating presents a high level of structural risk, particularly in buildings constructed with a flexible frame, as is the case with the Central Library…. …When allowance is made for construction tolerances, creep and shrinkage effects, Aurecon has calculated that the building has an effective NBS rating of 20%…. …there are other matters to be considered … The building is a complex design with a flexible frame, large voids and irregular shape – all of these elements contribute to the building’s structural vulnerability in a significant earthquake given the assessment findings in respect of the floor seatings.” (Letter to Kevin Lavery from Peter Brennan, 18 March 2019) [from eyeofthefish]

  12. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 7. July 2019, 19:02

    Harry, ask yourself these three questions:

    1. Would you be happy working 40 hours a week in a building that is now recognised as being at clear risk of complete and sudden collapse in a major earthquake?

    2. Would you be prepared to direct employees to do this if you were directly responsible for their employment and wellbeing ?

    3. You’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, Harry?

  13. DRD, 7. July 2019, 21:13

    Why not take a different view and consider the idea of demolishing all the buildings from the library to the town hall. Have an architectural competition to design an iconic building or set of buildings to house a new library, council offices and a purpose built music auditorium/music school. The council needs to show some creativity,vision and leadership and think outside the square.

  14. Local, 7. July 2019, 22:29

    The library has had so many different EQ assessments with so many different results. All it is at present is a splendid example of the ridiculous EQ industry that has sprung up and the inaccurate nature of this “science”. The assessment quoted here is based on the most recent guidelines, not law or standards. In the meantime it sits empty.
    If the library is suddenly so unsafe, well there are hundreds or maybe thousands of people working 40 hrs a week in over 100 Wellington buildings with the same floor issues.
    Let’s get our library fixed and reopened.

  15. Frank, 8. July 2019, 1:13

    It does pose some serious questions about how we deal with risk, but seeing as an earthquake isn’t a far fetched possibility (I lived in Christchurch during all the shocks) it is incumbent upon the powers that be to take action before a disaster can happen.
    The decision to reinforce or to rebuild is one for the engineers and accountants, but what the council has to get right this time is the process of making it happen.

  16. Harry Welsford, 8. July 2019, 9:39

    CCF – The building already proved it was as safe as buildings can get in earthquakes as it withstood an earthquake with zero damage.
    Answers to your questions.
    1) We all do if we work in buildings/homes on the earth. Fact:Every structure has the potential to collapse in a major earthquake.
    2) The WCC has been doing this and is still doing this so this is a rhetorical question.
    3) do.

  17. Andrew S, 8. July 2019, 12:56

    Expensive action that will do nothing in the event of a mayor earthquake is worse than taking no action.
    It is what happens when people start shouting emergency “the sky is falling”.
    Engineers and architects are not seismologists so any major decisions about earthquakes should not be made or driven by them.

  18. Dave B, 8. July 2019, 13:35

    Would those people who worry about continuing to use the library be the same people who happily use a transport system that without-fail kills around 380 people per year? Every year that is, not just once in every 200 years like a big earthquake.

    Every time we hop in a car or even walk alongside a road, we expose ourselves to a much greater risk than using the library. But does anyone care?

  19. Some home truths, 9. July 2019, 15:20

    There is some really muddled thinking here.
    Every modern building is designed to ensure that,in the event of a forseeable earthquake, those who are in it and those who are around it will not be injured.
    In the course of any sizable earthquake, many of those buildings will sustain a loss of structural integrity. This does not mean that they will fall down immediatelu, but instead that in the next quake, it will have had some structural damage which will make it less resilient.
    So to say “Can anyone recall a building in Wellington that has, since the Kaikoura earthquake, been demolished due to the risk of future failure rather than from sustaining actual damage?” (Stuart Gardyne, above) is to totally miss the point. All buildings were damaged to some extent in the Kaikoura quake. Many by only a little, but numbers by a considerable amount. Some have been demolished. Others have been repaired (where that is possible). We are finding more every month.
    Those that have been demolished have all been at substantial risk of future failure.
    In addition, there is much new knowledge. Both about the way in which earthquakes may strike, and also in the way that buildings will behave in the next quake.
    No-one would build the Library today to the design which was used. The Library will have sustained some damage (for example, stretching and compression of structural components) in the Kaikoura quake. So the strength of earthquake it can sustain is less. In addition, its design uses assumptions about safe structural design which are now proven to be wrong.
    Living in Wellington, we have to recognise that – however much we may like a building – it has a finite life and at any time may have to be demolished. We cannot enjoy the luxury of thinking that even iconic buildings can be saved – except at costs which our weak local economy cannot sustain. But our Council is captured by the foolish notion that we can save them all – Town Hall, St James, Opera House, Library…and that we should spend more on doing that than it would cost to demolish and rebuild.
    It is time to face reality.

  20. Steve B, 9. July 2019, 17:04

    Looks like the Council really want to demolish (highest cost option) a building that withstood the Kaikoura earthquake with no damage.
    Fact: No building or house can be said to be “safe” in a major earthquake. This is especially true for the so called strengthened buildings (many are not going to be safe in a mayor earthquake and they have lost of glass). Living here we have to accept risks (or move to a place with less risks or hide in a bunker). Driving, which we risk daily as Dave pointed out, is far more statistically risky.

  21. Future Generations, 10. July 2019, 15:04

    I agree with previous comments that no building is “safe” in a major earthquake, but some buildings have a higher risk of damage and collapse than others. Since the road transport analogy has been used, which car do you think will keep its occupants safer in a serious accident? A 1990 Ford Tempo that doesn’t have any damage and still meeting the safety standards of 1990, or a 2018 Ford Focus with a 5 star NCAP safety rating?
    With regards to cost, stop being fixated on the narrow view that the library building may be replaced by a new library building. We are a growing city with very limited space. Do a Google image search for Wellington 1900; our city consisted of buildings 2-4 stories high. If the view that we shouldn’t replace buildings with new ones as the needs of the city change, we would still have a city with 2-4 storey buildings and no economic growth.
    A new building will probably include ground floor retail, office space for council or commercially rented, apartments, a hotel and yes, a modern library designed for the Information Era. This will cost more, but this is an investment in improving services and not a like for like replacement.

  22. Tony Jansen, 11. July 2019, 10:43

    It is an iconic building designed by a famous local architect. So it is a no-brainer that it is saved. Those who call for demolition are politicians on the Council who have been captured by major developers. Good business for the developers. Pure politics at play here.