Traditional and non-traditional design coexist in new Massey University library

Massey University's new library on its Auckland campus was designed by Opus Architecture.

When Massey University opened the doors to its new library at its Auckland campus, “non-traditional” was the key word. The Opus Architecture designed building — capable of holding 1400 students — moves away from traditional library environments. Rather than a sanctuary of silence, Massey University wanted the library to encourage interaction. The facility needed to incorporate “non-traditional” library functions, such as entertainment and social spaces, in addition to the conventional requirement for books. It was important to provide quiet spaces to read or study, while also encouraging dialogue and the exchange of ideas. 

Similarly, the university wanted an interior space that was stimulating and fun, while also being sympathetic to the “traditional” appearance of the building exterior, avoiding overly bright colours. 

During concept development, the design team explored the social aspect of learning, assessing how interactive environments could sit alongside traditional library activities. Because learning takes place in a variety of modes, and a key design aim became the creation of an array of learning environments. Various zones would be created and defined through the use of form, colour and materiality. 

The design concept is based around the idea of Linear Layers of Space - Definition and Connection. Linear elements split the building interior into multiple zones, which are each allocated a different feel or function. Definition is the separation of space into zones, and Connection is the linking of these zones. In this way, a variety of learning environments are created.

Stratification of space occurs in both a vertical and horizontal sense. In plan, the large floor plates are defined and separated into zones through linear divisions. Open plan was essential, so definition is achieved through changes in floor and ceiling surfaces, and through placement of various furniture types. Connection is also important, and linear circulation routes not only define zones, they create legible movement through the awkward L-shaped plan, the result of an existing building extension. A feature stair is intentionally located in the joint of the “L” to provide a visual reference point. 

Curves and circles are used to define the “louder” zones, representing a break from the linear mould in the same way that social spaces represent a break from the conventional library environment. In this sense the plan changes from a structured linear arrangement on the upper floors, to a looser organic interpretation of space layering on the lower floors. 

Overlaying the fundamental concept of linear layers is the colour concept of “Earth and Forest”. The qualities of these are drawn upon as examples of linear layering in nature – stratification of soil and rock, contrasted against the random assembly of tree trunks in a forest. Stone and wood are therefore selected as feature materials that define circulation paths and key destinations, while also adding variety and interest. Layers of stone provide a backdrop to the feature stair, while randomly placed vertical timber battens adorn feature walls, mimicking the irregularity of a forest view. The forest and earth theme is further drawn upon in the selection of colours; highlights of red, orange and green, like foliage and flowers, against a backdrop of earthy tones.

Each zone within the library has a different feel and mood. Along with individual study zones overlooking the bush, there are zones designed to encourage group interaction and the exchange of ideas, such as study pods. Conceptually, the notion of “pods” is drawn from the idea of a seed pod, a place for nurturing and growing.

The variety of learning environments both stimulate the students and create a visually interesting interior. The challenge of extending an existing facility is dealt with in the positioning of key circulation paths which provide legibility and definition. Materials selected provide warmth and texture, while forms such as circular pods, stairs and walls, contrast against clean linear lines, providing visual interest and appeal.

All photos by Patrick Reynolds

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