Exterior end view

A dynamic ‘new’ heritage library in Auckland

When a public library has been extended and renovated to the point where further structural work is no longer a viable option, the opportunity arises to create a facility more in tune with current and future community needs – as New Zealand correspondent Michael Smith reports. 

Inside library

The library’s art-adorned foyer and hearth (click to enlarge)

Such is the case with the recently opened Devonport Library on Auckland’s North Shore – a “21st century library” that incorporates sustainability principles in line with Auckland Council policies, and complements its natural surroundings as a “pavilion in the park” while adding a new dynamic to the heritage nature of this seaside suburb.

Designed by Athfield Architects, the structure accentuates light and views via a high ceiling and a simple material palette of wood and glass. Its innovative ventilation system maintains an ambient temperature using louvred windows and the building’s natural airflows.

Sympathetic connections

Formally, the design comprises two elements: a double-height, day-lit verandah structure on the western side – the accessible ‘shopfront’ that connects to the townscape on Victoria Road – wrapped on the colder south-eastern face by ‘snug spaces’ of a smaller, and more formal and intimate nature.

Wherever possible natural materials have been chosen to connect with and frame the subtle greens of the nearby reserve’s tree canopy and the blues of the harbour.

Externally, aside from curtain wall glazing, North American red cedar dominates, with wide boards and battens used on the ‘snug’ block, contrasting with a more refined and thinner profile on the ‘verandah’, including vertical fretwork.

Internally, the building is lined with cedar, pine plywood panels and dark-stained oak. Exposed glue-laminated pine trusses provide the major structural element, while a smaller steel frame supports the south-eastern side.

Interior stairway

Ply-clad staircase with wrap-around shelving (click to enlarge)

The architects have made skilful use of the various interior timbers to create a warm and welcoming domestic atmosphere. And they took inspiration from Maori tukutuku panels and the black and white tiled floors of Victorian villas to create carpeted floors whose varied patterns and size depend on the scale, activity and narrative of the space they occupy.

Community focus

Artworks focus on the community, and important cultural and historical connections. Among them are acclaimed potter Barry Brickell’s terracotta relief tiles, The Harbour Ferries, which recognise the importance of water transport to Devonport village life.

Close by is Te Rongo Kirkwood’s imposing kiln-fired fused glass, Te Aho Maumahara – Sacred Strand of Memories, which recalls historical indigenous protest through karakia (prayers). And the lintel over the main entrance features a totara carving that references local Maori history and mana whenua (tribal authority).

Service model

Carpeted interior

Casual seating in the ‘teen’ area (click to enlarge)

The library’s “21st century” service model encourages casual access to the space and collection by providing site-wide Wi-Fi, and drawing back the security lines from the edge of the building. Open service desks help to break down barriers between the public and library resources, while a richly coloured, hand-printed silk security curtain can isolate the community room and facilities for extended after-hours use.

Playfulness and innovation abound – from the porthole and ‘secret door’ to the fireside/lounge areas and the plywood-clad staircase that partially doubles as bespoke, wraparound bookshelves. Intimate and formal study spaces are located on the mezzanine, which significantly increases the facility’s floor area compared with the old library, but on the same footprint – affording the flexibility to meet anticipated future demands.

Copyright timber+DESIGN online 2015



  • PROJECT: Te Pataka Korero o Te Hau Kapua – Devonport Library, North Shore, Auckland, New Zealand
  • CLIENT: Auckland Council Libraries, New Zealand
  • ARCHITECT: Athfield Architects
  • PROJECT MANAGEMENT: The Building Intelligence Group
  • CONSTRUCTION: Naylor Love
  • WOOD PRODUCTS: Pine plywood panels and dark-stained oak (internal lining), glue-laminated radiate pine trusses, North American red cedar (external boards and battens)
  • PHOTOGRAPHY: Michael Smith


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