Wellingtons closed central library packed up under supervision of heritage expert

Light fittings and chairs are among the items being saved from within Wellington’s 30-year-old closed central library building because of their heritage value.

The library is being packed up over eight weeks so it can be earthquake strengthened.

All the books have already been removed and are being stored at a warehouse in Johnsonville.

The library – opened in 1991 – has been listed as a Category 1 Historic Place.

The building is considered to have exceptional historic significance as a major work of Ian Athfield, one of New Zealand’s most renowned architects of recent times.

It’s the first heritage place listed from the 1990s.

Wellington City Council libraries manager Laurinda Thomas said a heritage expert was overseeing the process of removing all the loose items in the building.

“We have all kinds of interesting heritage things in there. Things like the chairs for example, but there are also bespoke end tables made and other things like light fittings that Heritage New Zealand is quite interested in.”

A Heritage New Zealand report said Athfield’s wife, Clare, co-ordinated the interior of the library and designed a brightly-coloured, patterned carpet for the floors.

“The shelves, book trollies, book ends and lighting were designed in-house and made by local firms, with Clare Athfield arguing ‘it is time for New Zealanders to stand up and say we can do it. We can make chairs, design furniture. We don’t need to import it’.”, the report said.

Thomas said some of the chairs in the building were built specifically for the site itself.

“There are some two-seater and one-seater chairs that have curved wooden backs and really distinctive wrought iron patterns on them.”

Other chairs have the logo of the library at the time it was opened stamped on their backs.

Heritage items will be carefully removed, labelled, itemised and wrapped. Other items like office furniture will be upcycled or recycled and some shelving will be re-used.

“The central library has lots of nooks and crannies where things have been stored over the years, so there’s going to be a lot to go through”, Thomas said.

She said the overall strengthening project was at the concept design phase, which considered things like the lifts, entry points, and major ducting.

Meanwhile, Wellington City Council has started the tendering process to find a main contractor. This selection process might carry on up until Christmas or into early next year.

Wellington’s central library has been closed since March 2019. The building was assessed against new guidelines issued after the partial collapse of Statistics House in the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake.

Engineers found the way the concrete flooring was designed presented a high level of potential failure in a significant earthquake.

The council has since established an interim library service at three new branches across the CBD.

City councillors have agreed to strengthen the building with base isolators, which is expected to cost $187.4 million.

The building will be strengthened and modernised over the coming four years including expanding levels three and four and designing new spaces for the City Archives, Council Service Centre, and Capital E.

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