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More Info →Oral Interview - Ian Athfield

This interview with Ian Athfield and Anthony Lewis relates to architectural features of the new Palmerston North City Library in the early 1990s.

Athfield was the architect of the library, a converted department store, which opened in 1996. Anthony Lewis was the then City Librarian.

Sir Ian Charles Athfield (15 July 1940 – 16 January 2015) was a New Zealand architect. He was born in Christchurch and graduated from the University of Auckland in 1963 with a Diploma of Architecture. That same year he joined Structon Group Architects, and he became a partner in 1965. In 1968 he was a principal partner in setting up Athfield Architects with Ian Dickson and Graeme John Boucher (Manson).

Interviewer: Jacqueline Aust, PNCC community Relations Officer

Length: 57 minutes


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Oral Interview - Ian Athfield
PNCC Series 38
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Created By
4 Te Marae o Hine/The Square, Palmerston North
April 22, 1996

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Ian Matheson City Archives


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Related items

Oral Interview - Ian Athfield
10-15 The Square - Commercial Building
164-165 The Square - Kerslake Building
168-169 The Square – Messrs O’Connor & Tydeman’s Building
166 The Square – Hepworth’s Pharmacy building
126-136 The Square – Former Palmerston North Chief Post Office
125-128 The Square - Waldegrave Building
153-154 The Square – United Friendly Societies’ Dispensary (UFSD) building
31-35 The Square – Strand Building
113-114 The Square - Civic Building
149-152 The Square – Westside Chambers, former ‘M.L.C. Building’
Palmerston North Civic Administration Building, The Square

Ian Athfield (Ath), Architect for Palmerston North Library
with Anthony Lewis, Manager of Palmerston North Library

Interviewer: Where did you begin?
IA: I suppose I really began with Anthony1 approaching us and also having some experience with the library, not necessarily the building experience because that’s always the same. It’s having that experience of the influence of a library in a city. If you do anything which actually stretches people’s idea of how they approach a library. You know, a library is a very important focal point of the city, and can be thought about as a, you know, a ‘living room’ of the city. And then balanced against that, you have a security problem of one in and one out. So we started really at the site selection process. And working with Anthony, it was quite obvious that this building and this position was an ideal opportunity to extend the influence of the library beyond the actual building, so that it became a reception point for a number of things. You know, so that the library could benefit from the neighbourhood it was in, as well as the neighbourhood benefit from the library, as well as give other people the opportunity of crossing that threshold which they’ve never been able to cross before. So, as opposed to the traditional thinking of the library as the supermarket at a distance where the threshold is much more difficult than a supermarket, because its not exactly consumer goods, it’s intellectual material, and quite often intellectual material requires a different type of coaxing of people into that domain. We’re able to have something to do with site selection, then we had something to do with the size of the building footprint and then we actually started influencing the neighbourhood. So it was using the neighbourhood as the address for the library, rather than the door as an address for the library. We found by doing this exercise we extended the threshold and we’ve really effectively made five or six thresholds. We’ve got the general threshold which is the north-west corner of the Square which is quite different from the south-east corner of the Square and we saw that as one of the other magnet points of Palmerston North. And then it was making people feel or take possession or ownership of that – the library in that position. Now I think we’d probably, we will succeed, or we are already starting to succeed by people using the coffee bars around. Because that is basically the threshold of the library. The library is seen as part of this whole area. A visit to the library does not necessarily mean that you go in the library. I mean it’s like a taxi driver who goes past and says: ‘Have you seen our library?’ But will never use it. But just by saying that: ‘Have you seen our library?’ means that they’ve actually taken over that ownership. And if that can happen fairly quickly without it being by necessity an architectural icon, which it isn’t – I mean in some ways it’s seen as an architectural icon but then people have difficulties in seeing it as an architectural icon because they don’t quite know where it starts and stops. So it’s a very, very interesting interface between private and public space or perceived private space. So, privileged public space and non-privileged public space. And It’s a very, very interesting area where you can actually start experimenting with – of changing the nature of the threshold. Now as opposed to Wellington, we actually had two possible thresholds and it took 18 months for that to actually develop. Here you’ve got five or six possible thresholds and you’ve got an association of other things which are happening in conjunction with it. So that more people are going to be – feel the presence of the library in some way or other. Now I don’t think it really matters if they come in or not as long as once they actually go in, they actually feel very, very comfortable about coming in and going out. And there are some really interesting things happening like the sight and sound area going down onto the ground floor, being a commercial space, being an entry for people who have generally moved away from books because they find them difficult, or it’s not part of their lifestyle. So that it gives you another entry for people who’ve used recordings as a basis for getting their information. And also, it works in the other way where people will take that opportunity of actually seeing that new information resource in a totally different light. So it is part of their library system yet not, sort of, caught away in one corner. So, I suppose, really once you’ve actually got over the number of thresholds, you find yourself sort of, cajoled into a space which also then has a number of things happening. And I think the change away from the Dewey System cataloguing is just a really great thing and, to make people come across things by accident rather than by design. The building just actually is a framework for a number of opportunities to happen within the building. And if one is able to mix the things which the people traditionally expect, then people are going to find that they are going to be exposed to more information that they will have been if they have to go through a traditional system, a traditional door, a traditional threshold. So, I suppose I’m interested in it from a social point of view, not as an information dissemination point of view, but a social point of view will also enable the library probably be more successful in giving out that information.
Interviewer: Why will people find it difficult to see the library as an icon?
IA: Because it doesn’t exist in isolation. I mean there’s a really difficult thing – most people will see a library, you know, from an architectural point of view or from an administration point of view, or from any other – as a sole building whether it’s a regrade of one building. Here, I mean, many Councillors didn’t realise that the library was part of the building going up on Main Street/George Street corner. They just didn’t appreciate: ‘How could that be the library because our library is off the Square.’ And so, what we’ve done, we’ve virtually – we’ve provided a new lane, we provided a new accessway, we’ve started talking to the immediate neighbours and we’ve actually sort of started to give a reason for the neighbours in that adjoining thing, immediate neighbours to actually start talking about themselves in relationship to what’s actually happening. So, instead of actually having one new building and a whole lot of tatty buildings waiting for an immediate upgrade: ‘We would be as good if we could upgrade.’ You’ve gotten now a whole lot of people sort of, pulling themselves up it to these sorts of standards. Which is a hell of a lot more healthier than the sort of thing where you actually plug in the new one, hoping all the other tacky things around will actually dissolve and finally you’ll get another new one next to it. So, it’s not about a necessarily a status building thing it’s about providing an identification for a much larger area than the area we’ve worked in. So, it isn’t the one element you know. There are elements there which are architectural or visual, but they – to one person it means something and to another person it means something else, you know. Or one person will actually take a portion of the library and enjoy it and another person will take the idea of the library and enjoy it. So there’s a different type of ownership taking place and not necessarily saying you know, they don’t actually associate with the complete building, which I find really quite encouraging.
AL: I think one of the interesting things that Ath has done repeatedly from the very beginning is try and stretch people’s imagination past a building to the famous block. Ath has always said, what’s been done here is the development of a block and that’s where that reference to Councillors who didn’t realise were going out to Main Street. I mean it was that day we sat at George Street Deli having a cup of coffee, looked at that carpark, took ourselves straight over to City Manager, told him that’s what we wanted and he basically told us to get out and stop being so stupid. ‘Restrict yourself to the building and be grateful for the building!’ But he’s got passed that and now he actually, I think, has a very firm grasp on what Ath was trying to say from the very beginning which is: this was destined to change a block if not a wider area. But for most people that’s too challenging and they just thought we were building a new building, a new library and that’s what you’re on about isn’t it.
IA: Yeah and the other thing which was quite interesting is that when we started and used the building itself just as a building, the exercise was going to cost $12 million. We had this report by Councillors and we’d brought ourselves that an alternative could be down as low as $8 million. We then prepared another alternative which was $16 million, and in a matter of a week of preparing it we’d talked the Council into accepting the $16 million proposal when they were going to cut a $12 million proposal down to $8 million. And what is really interesting, the real cost on the city is, you know, that was the real cost at that particular time, was much less to actually have the $16 million version than the 8 or $12 million version. But interesting enough, if one was to analyse the overall benefits to this part of the city, it would be even greater than the initial things of actually analysing the pure function of the building related to income produced. So if you take that as a factor it was better with $16 million, and once you actually put the $16 million component in the manner that we have, then a whole lot of other people are actually benefitting. You know, I mean, Palmerston actually is a city there is also another whole series of opportunities existing here.
Interviewer: That’s what you talked about in the meeting this morning, that you’ve been talking to Councillors in Auckland and other cities

IA: It was just a simple thing that Les was touching on, I would have wanted to remind him, but I thought it was an appropriate time, was one the things we actually said before they sold this site, the should re-survey the street, decrease the width of it and sell them part of the street. Because a narrow street through here would be much more positive than a wide street through here. And Palmerston is very, very lucky, it has hugely wide streets and if you want to actually make this place a much better place to live in then you can actually narrow the streets and provide differing spaces. Because quite often, narrow streets with four and five story buildings are a hell of a lot less windy that wide streets with two and three story buildings. Because the wind goes right across the top. And it’s a really interesting argument, you know, when you get windy cities in coastal areas of Europe for instance, or other places around the world, they have four and five story buildings with thinly narrow streets in between them. Because that’s a really good way of actually pushing the wind up over the structures and protecting the street faces. It’s something which we don’t realise, we don’t really know about because we’ve never built in that manner. But it is a very important aspect of this. So it would be quite good to give Les a few ideas.
Interviewer: Tell me, it there anything that you’ve experimented with in this building that you haven’t previously.
IA: I think every time you – you work on your knowledge base and I think one of the interesting things – the things that one experiments with are sort of, design ideas which extend people’s imagination a little bit. Like the columns in the street as something that extends people’s imaginations; like the canopy which actually comes across the top of this building rather than stop on the boundary; like the walkway right through the side of the building and inviting the adjoining neighbours to share in that as an experience. I mean that is something that hasn’t been tried. But I suppose really, I mean the only thing which is really important from my point of view is to actually keep the picture as wide as you possibly can and then when your making a decision, don’t lose that very, very big picture. Now surprisingly, we’ve been able to keep, mainly because of Anthony. Working with someone like Anthony is much easier because he’s actually helped us keep that big framework. Because it’s very, very easy to close down very quickly. But I think it’s something in which – I mean it’s a really interesting to actually see people who’ve seen this series of buildings, these series of buildings, I mean, they’re very enthusiastic about it. And it’s quite – or they have strong ideas about it, which is quite important and I think it’s, in many ways, a lot more successful than Wellington. But it’s successful because of all sorts of different reasons. It’s not necessarily successful because it has stronger architectural ideas, it’s more successful because it offers a greater invitation for people to participate in it.
Interviewer: Greater variety of people too.
IA: Yes a greater variety of people who sort of, see it as a place which they will take that ownership on in various sorts of ways. I mean they will find it internally very, very interesting compared with the other ones. Some of the ideas will be extremely simple and some will be close to banal. But that’s fine, I mean, are you catering for everyone? And there are other people who will take the idea on beyond Palmerston, as something which is important. And the sort of thing which I was trying to talk about today about the ownership of the street and public and private space. There’s a strong prerogative for instance for elderly people to be the people who are in the front window of the street rather than in the Greenfield’s Retirement Villages. Now there’s also that – the great transformation that has happened in New Zealand in a very short time, is the café table moving out into the street. When the café table moved out into the street, everyone said: ‘Oh someone will go and run away with your money.’ Now up to that time the door was sort of locked, it was watched by the proprietor, someone moved out the door without paying he was roped. Yeah, you know the thing has changed completely. Because there is a level of respect or understanding in that interface. Now you’ll get graffiti on buildings and you’ll get posters stuck on buildings if they present that stern, sort of solid face that sort of says: ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with you unless you’ve got ten thousand dollars or I don’t want to have anything to do with you unless you are prepared to come in here with white shoes and stove pipes,’ or whatever it may be. So, you know, you don’t actually have to provide conditions. And that’s why, I mean, if that argument had changed I would’ve become a lot more heated about this because it means a hell of a lot more than just a couple of architectural ideas and actually it’s a new – it’s introducing a much bigger space and a much bigger idea to a lot of people in a different way.
AL: How’re you feeling about the preservation of the old? Better than you expected?
IA: I think it’s – yeah I think it’s good because – I’ve got a big argument tomorrow because I’m looking at the Hurst and Drake building in Christchurch and this women says: ‘And ee don’t want any of that fuckin stuff you’re doing down in Palmerston. You’ve destroyed that building. You’ve destroyed it!’ I said: ‘What do you mean?’ She said: ‘That was a beautiful façade.’ I said: ‘That’s all it was, now it’s a building.’ You know, now all of a sudden it’s a building. And it doesn’t matter what you say, there’s a new – people know that it’s a building, you know. And there’ll be people who will actually used those little walkways and there’ll be people who will sort of – all of a sudden there will be things happening around that sort of space.
Interviewer: How will those people make that transition from feeling so resentful about their building not being done up in appropriate fashion and being fiddled around with.
IA: I think they are the people which also actually have to change. I mean, I don’t think life is that simple, it’s not that black and white. It’s the same people who say: ‘We must have more police.’ Or it’s the same people that actually say: ‘That abortion is a really bad thing.’ I mean, you actually have to be able to see both sides of the story and when finally there are two sides to the story, there is a way of seeing through that to the benefit of everyone. Because if we preserve the past in it’s perfect way, then there’ll be no use for those buildings. And we did that for a long time and no one wanted to use them because they were sort of, icons of the past, which actually had no use. Life changes all the time. I mean, touching and altering and moving and changing is really part and parcel of life. That also involves respect and you know, we haven’t gone down – we haven’t bulldozed everything. I mean it’s absolute farce. If we had bulldozed everything and just kept the façade and built something new in behind like Kirkcaldie’s in Wellington, we would have lost a soul. And I still believe there is a soul there. There is parts which are being discovered and people will discover things – other things which are really interesting like the back face of this building and the back face of the next building. All of a sudden - and those building will actually have holes cut in which will make them differently. You know, these spaces don’t necessarily have a front and a back. You know, nor do people. There are all sorts of ways of presenting an argument. But unfortunately certain people involved with historical preservation – I think it’s extremely good if you’ve got a document which you want to preserve, or a statue which you want to preserve, or a work of art which you want to preserve. But a façade of a building is only a portion of a building. And if the rest of the building is complete decay why should you reproduce that façade only and in fact the decay in behind. Once you actually talk about facadism you’re struggling anyway. You’re argument isn’t that good. So, I think what we’re doing is creating a new life for a whole area and the life is actually coming in George Street. And if the life is better in George Street then this space of the Square becomes lively. If we had assumed it was only the space in the Square, we would have found the library which you went in and you went out, George Street would have actually had a level of decay, Coleman Place would have had a level of decay and all of a sudden the library would be another thing which has happened. You know, the Council has spent money on the library. But I think, really, it’s that ongoing idea that the library is an exploring animal, it’s exploring ideas , it’s exploring the resource for that it has for introducing people. And sometimes it might be a much smaller building or it might be bigger. But actually it has to deal with that bigness in a different way. I mean for instance, if it’s computer screens, the computer screens might be down at this café. Because the security is a different animal than the security which is associated with books. So, it needs to be able to be changed in those sorts of levels.
Interviewer: One of the things that John was saying the other day about the
south wing and where some of the ideas came from. And you know, the part of the veranda that’s on a slope. I think it came from a discussion about the signage – the neon sign and how that sloped, I don’t know if you call it a veranda.
IA: Previously the children’s

Interviewer: I’ll ask a question first, before you answer me. How do you feel about something that has changed from what began originally, and what is left is something that is perhaps not quite comfortable?
IA: I think that’s partly a little bit about why – us not correcting it when it actually happened. I probably should have got back into the design, or John was not at the point where he had been at the office long enough. But John, I find, a very good person to work with from a visual and an instructive point of view. And I really enjoy his involvement and the library wouldn’t be as good if it hadn’t been for John being involved with it too. John and Clare2 are two visual people and this is probably what has given me as the luxury of not coming up as often as I would or could’ve or couldn’t have probably. John is quite right but no one had actually noticed it except us. That sort of level. But still all the same, the things which annoy you

Interviewer: People do notice it though.
IA: Yeah, it going up like that.
Interviewer: And then it stopping. And then there’s nothing there.
IA: It’s even worse because the damn travel agency has hung their damn sign from it, instead of hooking it under the lower veranda, which I should’ve asked Dave about. Because those two things which I’ve brought to his attention haven’t been changed and that’s a pity, you know. But, again, that’s why we wanted this sort of neons only sort of moving on from that. That was a glass conservatory which came actually out for children at that level. And that was going to be the children’s area from the mezzanine. Now that actually went. It went right in the middle of us doing the working drawings and by that time we were actually sort of, fighting financially – from our own point financially and we sort of, I suppose it was 10 minutes of whack, whack, whack – off. And everything else had been drawn so we just kept on going.
AL: That’s when you cut the corner building off too.
IA: Yeah we cut the corner building off.
Interviewer: Yes. But that part of it isn’t quite so noticeable to others perhaps. Because that seems to be tying in quite well as it is at the moment.
IA: But, I mean, you know, the only thing you probably would have done would be to change the veranda in the copper building. You know, that should have – as we came up – because the building on the corner is quite – is pretty strong in itself and there’s that idea of the industrial building in the 50s, sort of precise building in the 50s mimics the 30s building. This idea of, a transition of styles and also a potpourri of styles which already exist down the street anyway.
AL: Do you want another one Ath?
IA: No I don’t think so.
AL: Sure?
IA: Yep.
Interviewer: What are some of the other things which you have noticed that have developed we should think about?
AL: Well, one of the interesting things is the shock that people get. We juggled and organised a media night a couple of weeks ago. And none of them have been in the thing and they were absolutely quite shocked at the perception from the outside five buildings and then to go inside and there was a huge belt for them [Stop]
[Restart 27:47]
Interviewer: Afterwards they said: ‘Gosh the building outside is amazing, it’s different, but there’s no indication on the outside of this wonder and all the things you’ve done on the inside.
IA: I mean, the shock which John took going up the ramp of this of this [recording skips] pieces of red and the steel. Have you seen the one, with the copper in the back and the skylight over it? It’s extremely, sort of, 1960s ecclesiastical architecture. You know, I mean it’s just got that sort of the last of the monumental, Presbyterian, Anglican sort of churches. Have you noticed that? There’s a little bit of that 60s ecclesiastical. I thought: ‘Christ how did that happen?’ You know, but it was there and I mean there’s elements which quite surprise you.
Interviewer: Even you?
IA: Yeah. But nicely, you know, because it doesn’t matter, because you don’t actually think about it in that way. You actually, sort of, think about a space and material and pulling things together and you know the things you don’t like and the things which don’t work and the junctions which are really bad, all those sort of, jar and you want to, you know – but that’s – you know, you have to accept that finally. But the general sort of feeling, I think, is quite interesting. I mean, people feeling quite comfortable about it inside. Things like lighting and that, I don’t think they appreciated, there’s quite a variety and quite a strength of lighting types. And it sort of cajoles you into quite – thinking quite pleasantly about it, you don’t feel uncomfortable about being inside the building.
Interviewer: It looks also like a wee bit – there’s one stage there where it looks as it you’ve had a number of quotes from a number of lighting shops and you couldn’t quite decide which to go so you had one of those and one of those and one of those.
IA: Yeah there’s a wee bit of that. But you’ll find it’s generally slightly sort of themed or slightly different as you actually work through it.
AL: Actually another really pleasant surprise, did you notice at the end of that meeting what Ian was saying to me?
Interviewer: Which meeting? Just now?
AL: Just now with the Councillors. He said: ‘I have to admit to you reluctantly that I now agree with you about the ducting.’ See from the very beginning, Ian was of the school: ‘Oh ducting how could you do this to us here Ian Athfield etc etc.’ And I said: ‘Just settle down, colour, carpet.’
Interviewer: Oh this is Ian Cruden?
IA: Painting, it’ll all transform to the point one day when you will say to me it’s irrelevant. And he’s got there, which is really nice. And to take somebody like that through that process, I think has been very exciting. I mean he’s one of your biggest supporters. Now, you know, three years ago, or whenever he first came onto Council he probably wouldn’t have given me and Ian the time of day. And we came in here one night, didn’t we?
IA: I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the day Les Baty was turned around.
[Recording skips]
IA: hmm
AL: He possibly feels comfortable too knowing that the budget’s not out of control.
IA: Yeah and a lot of things have been done haven’t they? I mean if you compare them with the Science Centre and Museum, the sort of, finishes were finished up on there, you know, they are pretty basic weren’t they?
Interviewer: There’s nothing exciting.
IA: When you came to lighting and colour and the fittings and things like that there’s just – there’s a traditional thing, if you have an upfront bench, you spend huge amounts of money, if you had something in behind it was cheapskate sort of stuff. And the nice thing about this type of thing is that you do get a reasonable standard right throughout, without front of the house being the showy bits and the back being nothing. So it doesn’t necessarily have a back and front. And it’s still feels really good. I think some of the spaces which feel really good, which surprised me, are even there’s a space between the buildings now. The one where you come down the back from Main Street, you know, it’s a great space. And hopefully the commercial will actually open their space into it.
Interviewer: Where the parking is now?
IA: Hm, where the parking is now. You know, it’s really quite a strong space to be in. And if you’ve got

Interviewer: That could develop into the inside/outside sort of feel and courtyards and

IA: And the commercial building, if they had an eating house there which opened into it, it would be one of the more sheltered spaces in town. But, you know, I mean, I don’t – I suppose the most satisfying thing for me is I’ve had an opportunity to explore a little bit.
Interviewer: You’ve enjoyed that?
IA: Yeah, course I enjoyed it, it’s great. The only thing is we have to share it so much with - financially, which was quite hard work. But I don’t – Dennis is great but his partner’s in Wellington though, they’ve been ringing Benedict up every second or third day: ‘When can we get some more money?’
AL: Next cheque.
IA: No no, he wants Benedict to get more money out of the Council. ‘We’ve done more work that we expected to do.’ And this sort of thing. So I was going to warn Suzanne, but I never got the opportunity. I was just saying: ‘If you field any calls from him, don’t give in. We’re not going back to the Council, cap in hand.’ I’m buggered if I’ll be prepared to accept an approach from them.
Interviewer: One last thing, the article in the architecture magazine is the only information that I have so far, that I’ve seen written about

IA: They want to do it now that it’s been finished, they just approached us.
Interviewer: Oh good.
IA: Yeah. Now the idea of that was to actually sort of take the building at that sort of stage and everyone sort of thought it was extremely architecturally vague and then do it now that the building’s been finished. So they’ve actually asked for it in the last week to do that.
Interviewer: That’s what you were saying

IA: Yeah.
AL: Talking about openings and workrooms and loos. Just so you’ve got
you need the history of that staff

Interviewer: Ok, now openings. What do you mean openings?
AL: In the workrooms. Glass windows.
Interviewer: Oh right.
IA: Yeah, well one of the big concerns we’ve had right from the start, and it’s about things like private and public loos for instance and exclusive rights to certain spaces. And I suppose that’s the most difficult thing. We found it nearly impossible with Wellington. And mainly because traditionally around New Zealand toilets have been a great difficulty in public libraries. But we made a great big play on there is no public – there’s no private loo, that people would use loos generally. There’d be loos on floors and not exclusive staff rooms. Because if you actually put – now that was the one thing which I think was a pivotal debate in the library. And also too, work rooms should be part and parcel and there should be a relationship between work rooms and the service that you give. And there should be a general relaxed relationship between people working in the library space and the people that they generally served.
Interviewer: Accessible, we’re talking about the openings with the shutters now aren’t we?
IA: Yeah, so it’s just that – now it hasn’t worked in Wellington very well because we had a similar openings and they put glass windows across the face of them and propped books up against them. So it will be interesting to see if that culture develops here. But I think, certainly from a – the loos point of view, it’s been great. There’ve been no complaints at all. And the other thing which we did achieve here, is getting a public serviced facility down at the mezzanine floor, where we’ve got showers. And that’s worked extremely well in Wellington too. And it gives a sort of, another public interface where people from out of town can come and use the library and use the loos and use the showers and we’re finding really that many people, right around the centre, use those loos as their preferred loos in town.
Interviewer: So it’s what you were talking about the other day, it breaks down of the whole attitude between them and us. The staff and the public and it’s all people.
IA: Well it’s something which actually needs to happen in, for instance, solicitor’s offices or accountant’s offices, or any area where there is a level of service. I mean, it’s not common to libraries, but librarians in many ways, feel they’re there being exposed to it unnecessarily and quite often you get a greater resistance with people who actually feel they’re being made to relate to the public, than people who don’t feel they’re being made to relate to the public. But the need is just the same and that sort of relationship between private possessed and private public, is sort of, really very, very important. And if you’re going to actually sort of, make the transitional spaces work and people feel being comfortable about being in them. Now Canterbury Library is one of the worst actually in the country, worst that I’ve ever visited because everyone complained about the loos and they complained about the escalator making too much noise. So it was the noise and the loos and it was continual complaints over those sorts of areas. Now in many ways, those two elements should be positive. The escalator should provide a level of background noise, background sound which actually sort of, assists in the general ambiance of the place. Because if you’ve got too lower level of background sound, you’re going to hear everything and everyone starts to become quieter and quieter.
Interviewer: And you get back to the library ‘Shhhh’.
IA: Yeah. Which defeats the whole purpose of serving a broad public need. And the other thing is that people feel they are theirs and this is ours, which is the scungy one. That also is a great divider.
Interviewer: I think the cattle races certainly drowned people coming up and down there. Kids running up and down there, kids running their fingers into books, that will certainly drown out any escalator noise.
IA: There’ll be plenty of sound, it will be quite interesting to see there might even be a little bit too. No I don’t think so. I think that there’s a sort of, general ambience which balances quiet and if people want to go to a quieter area they retreat into the corners of the space. And so there are plenty of differences and there are plenty of places to hide and there’s – you know, the great thing about it, there’s east, west and north sun, so people can have a choice, they can have special places and places which are slightly darker that other places. So, people can wander around and find a space which they actually feel comfortable with. So the variety is a hell of a lot more internally than what actually happens in many other sort of, public used spaces. So, I would expect that that the time people spend in the library will increase, the number of people who visit it will increase, maybe the number of books taken out may not increase to the same level. The usage will certainly do it.
Interviewer: Do we know about how long people spend in libraries?
AL: Yes, well I mean we know that the average amount of time spent in our current one is less than fifteen minutes.
Interviewer: Yes, so they don’t come in curl a book, or meet people there.
AL: No, because where are they going to sit? And you know, what are they going to do. They are just there in a supermarket: just take it off a shelf and away you go.
Interviewer: Let’s get out of here as quickly as possible.
AL: Yes, whereas in here is a completely different philosophy.
IA: And it would be really quite good to, you know, it’s really important to condition your critics to thinking in those other terms. Because quite often people see libraries – success of libraries as the number of books that are taken out. The success is how comfortable people feel about it. And one of other economic successes of it is for people come in, spend time in the library, they will also spend time in other facilities in the city, which is a huge advantage.
Interviewer: So we look at the increase numbers of people for example, using the Art Gallery as a result of the placement of the library.
IA: Right, yep. And the other thing is, that it also encourages one very important thing, if your library is the ‘living room’ for the city and you build your living room first, the next thing which actually happens is your bedrooms for the city increase so that people actually start thinking about how they can live much closer to town. And what I think will actually happen is some of the areas to the north west of the city will actually be considered for more denser town houses

Interviewer: Which way is north west?
IA: Just down past Rebecca’s, you know out that way, you know. So if that happens then there’s another positive contribution it’s actually making. That certain people, instead of opting for the Greenfield’s Retirement Village, will actually opt for a small townhouse here, close to a medical centre, close to the library, all within walking distance.
Interviewer: So you might get the old [inaudible] being building developed in apartments.
IA: Yeah well, they are the sorts of things which will happen. You know, it’s not a phenomena for Auckland and Wellington, it’s a phenomena for the developed world really, of actually making cities a permanent place to live for the whole of your life, rather than getting to the point of 65 and retiring to Waikanae or Taupo, you know.
AL: In fact, didn’t we promote at the very beginning that idea over here, from those first concept drawings.
IA: Yeah there was a row of apartments, taking the buildings out in the centre, having a park into the centre, rather than apartments. But that Graeme what’s-the-name who owns the site

AL: Lindsay
IA: Hasn’t got very high level of imagination has he? He’s not an imaginative man.
Interviewer: I heard the other day, that he was going to put a little cinema in here like they have at the Art’s Centre in Christchurch. I am sure there are more of them around the country now. But that idea of bringing all of this in closer and having cafes and little bars and a cinema that sort of has old movies and things like that. Really quite fit apartments up the top.
IA: Yeah, I really don’t think he’s understood the dynamics of the site and how if he actually pulled it tighter within the space – and the thing that worries me from a landscaping point of view, we’ve suggested that the trees should be on the other side of the street for wide footpaths so that they capture the sun and take that space and this should be the narrower footpath of the two. And the parking should be on this side. But it’s an argument which I never won but I still believe in it and I’ll keep pushing it because Richard Meyer might be the person who has a much stronger appreciation than the two other landscape people. I must show you the negative report I got from two graduates of Lincoln College for Wanaka, who – we’re doing these 40 townhouse units and a lodge in Wanaka and we had this lobby of objectors against it, of about 50% were real estate agents of course, because they either lived in the vicinity and knew that they’d get more money out of selling sections in the Wanaka area. But the negative report from the urban design unit of the Queenstown Lakes District Council was just so damning and the client decided to put the meeting off and I finally coaxed them into going down and we had this amazing argument and even the women that I don’t get on extremely well put her arm around me and said: ‘You did very well Mr Athfield.’ She said: ‘You didn’t even flinch when Mr Warburton said it looked like Paremoremo Prison without bars.’
AL: So, has that gone through now.
IA: It’s likely to go through in a week’s time. I had to make some small changes to the objectives and the Council will put it through. It’s unofficially. So that’s amazing, two years work and we finally got it. Because we started that about the same time as we did this.
AL: Yep it was.
IA: So, it takes a long time.
Interviewer: I can’t think of anything else, because I don’t know of any other ...
IA: No, but you can ring us and chat about different things, about.
Interviewer: I’ll talk to John too, I think about his role which has been somewhat more recent.
IA: No John actually worked through the documentation. I mean one of the good things about John is that he extends design ideas and he’s pretty sensitive. Clare’s good too. She extends those sorts of strong ideas and works them around. And it’s really, really great actually having a person like John working with us. So, after this job we can start working together with Simon B(?) is working with us full-time now and he’s great.
Interviewer: John’s going to need a holiday for a little while.
IA: I know, I told him to take two or three weeks off.
Interviewer: Otherwise his wee boy won’t recognise him.
IA: I know. I’ve purposely done it. Because we spent too much time, we find ourselves in exactly the same position. They require a huge amount of work and energy, you know, this type of building. Sometime people don’t realise that.
AL: I think that’s very true.
IA: You know, I mean, on the fit out we virtually played the role of the main contractor over organising and ordering it.
Interviewer: Is that not normal?
IA: Well it’s not normal in the percentage we charged them for it. No. But that’s – I mean, I’m not complaining because in many ways it was the first reasonable sized job we’d had for a long time – this library. Because until – that was the biggest job we’d had for about four years. So, we’re just getting through that period. So it’s quite good to get this Humanities building in Christchurch.
AL: Is that a big one?
IA: Well it’s interesting. It’s another total site development. And John Scott, of course, is the whatever-you-call-it, Head of the School. And, but what’s really nice is it’s close to that Roman Catholic basilica which is an amazing building. You know, down in Barbados Street and the Madras Street area, you know. And it’s been a higgledy-piggledy sort of arrangement. Ands it’s nice to actually start placing buildings and ideas in the landscape. It’s quite a new M?ori – M?ori, sort of, language building that’s been built and the rest of it is just awful stuff – awful stuff, sort of, works consultancy stuff for a long period of time.
Interviewer: This is the Polytech. Ok.
IA: The Polytech hmm. Yeah, so we’ve got this sort of master planning in the Humanities building which is good. And as well as that, we’re doing the design work for works on an Accident and Emergency building at Wellington Hospital, which is another extremely interesting design challenge.
Interviewer: That would be quite different to libraries.
IA: Well, I think libraries are still very, very interesting in that they have some obvious public interfaces. But I also believe that hospitals have got another extremely important public interface. And that the threshold is quite a different nature. There’s a fear, there’s an anticipation, there’s a concern, there’s a – quite often a reluctance. It’s a different type of situation but I think it’s extremely valid. And your not trying to cajole people in, but you also – you need to make them feel different than I know how I feel when I go to a hospital. I don’t feel that comfortable. I feel sort of, awkward, I feel concerned, and you that they – some horrendous things happen within that sort of organisation. So it’s a very interesting design challenge. And thank god we don’t have to take any responsibilities, just all care and no responsibilities. Works are doing that, so that’s good. So that’s our next challenges in the next few months. So how are you feeling Anthony, how are you feeling?
AL: Tired, quite tired.
IA: Very tiring.
AL: But quite – you know, I was interested in what you were saying to Jacqueline in the beginning that – what did you say – period of deflation. Because I can see that coming. I mean, there’s people running around there just useless, utterly useless. I should just send them over here because they don’t know what they’re doing.
you know, they’re running around with boxes and, you know, the last thing they can cope with is remaining there. They’re just so excited. And I think it is

IA: You better throw a bit more wheat out this evening.
AL: But I think one of the things that I still do worry about, but not as much as I used to, is you remember that night you got stuck into me about realising that a lot of people can’t actually visualise. I guess one of the things I’m intrigued to see is what happens to things like loos, the spaces in the workrooms. And also just the whole quality of: how do they feel and how do they treat the public? Does something improve dramatically? No it’s really interesting. Philippa came back to me before and said: ‘I need three minutes with you.’ I said: ‘Ok, off you go.’ She said: ‘I feel sick.’ And I said: ‘why?’ She said: ‘I’ve seen the New Zealand workroom,’ and this is in here, and I said: ‘It’s the shelving, isn’t it my dear?’ She said: ‘Yes, can I immediately get rid of a particular collection,’ which was going into her workroom. She said: ‘I do not want that.’ i.e. six high or whatever it is, just dreadful feeling of what we’d been talking about the whole time of getting rid of row upon row because they’d put three rows of shelves in there, gone up to the traditional height and it’s just spoilt that space. So it’s really exciting to see somebody actually, just look at that, see through straight away, see what you’re trying to do and say: ‘I don’t want that.’ And I think that’s wonderful.
IA: Yeah, there’ll be quite a level of adjustment and nothings going to be perfect. And the thing is, I suppose, really you need to talk them all saying that there will be things which will go incredibly wrong and there’ll be things which you’ll be disappointed in and things which will now be balanced out with things which you probably won’t find – don’t even know exist, nor do you know it will exist. And certain things will happen differently than they’ve ever happened before and it really is taking advantage of those and taking consequence of where the problems start arising. And you don’t actually have to – you know, you don’t have to react in a completely negative way like these columns for instance, or a few other things which have happened along the way. You know, you’ve got completely out of kilter haven’t they?
IA: I noticed you kept saying that this morning. You know, we can look at the positives. Ok we can look at this positively you know. Sort of jollying them along.
AL: That’s one of the things that happens isn’t it. You said this to your people: Look at the columns for example, and they damned the building on the strength of the columns. Or a staff will go in and look at one particular thing and say: ‘Oh this is
’ And before you know what has happened you’ve lost that holistic view you were talking about, just on one piece of design, or whatever it is. And they blow that problem all out of proportion.
Interviewer: That’s what they’ve done with the staff badges. That’s exactly
AL: Tell us about that, I like that story.
Interviewer: Well, obviously I wanted the staff to be identified and so we’re planning a badge which has the staff and a logo of the library and their names. And so I asked heads of department to speak to their groups and ask them to put their names down I knew what they were. And I hadn’t realised, but a wee while before hand they’d passed a dress code or something that said they didn’t have to have their names on. And so I came back with something like over 50% of these staff wanted to have ‘staff’ on their badges. And I said to Anna ‘What’s going on here?’ And apparently there’s one woman who has had a man rather take a fancy to her and

AL: The red bra and red wine fellow.
IA: The one that’s been around the library for many, many years?
AL: Yes, he’s been to her house and brought a bottle of red wine and a red bra.
IA: Oh I never heard that bit!
Interviewer: And he’s made a nuisance of himself. And that that might happen to everybody else if their so exposed to having their names on badges. You see, and it’s the same thing that you were talking about, they’ve just latched on to this one little, tiny incident, not thinking it through at all. Thinking if I have my name on here Jacqueline, does that mean that I’m going to be harassed by some man on the other side of the counter and all the dark possibilities of that?
IA: You should have actually, if you’d realised you should’ve added: ‘We’ll need to have hobbies on there.’
Interviewer: They do in some supermarkets now, they do that. ‘My name is Jacqueline and my sports and hobbies are
’ Yes and if you particularly enthusiastic and energetic, you sort of have this list that sort of goes down.
IA: Yeah, you should get one Anthony and say ‘My particular hobbies are red bras and red wine.’
Interviewer: A good note to end on, I think.
AL: Do you want one more before you go.
IA: No, no.
1 Anthony Lewis, City Library Manager
2 John Hardwick-Smith and Clare Athfield from Athfield Architects.

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