Quadrupling in visitors answers those who questioned need for new building.

A secret door between the children's area and the community meeting room, anti-fight pillow seating squabs and a microchip-activated cat door for elderly tabby Benjamin are unusual features of the new Devonport Library, which had its civic opening last Thursday.

"This hidden door will eventually have books stacked in it," explains Athfield Architect director Jon Rennie, swinging back a hinged entranceway whose face is a bookshelf, at the seaward Torpedo Bay or King Edward Parade end of the new two-level building.

That door initially appears part of a solid, fixed wall but Rennie of the practice's Auckland office explained how it allows easier access between the two ground floor areas.

He worked with Nick Strachan of Athfield's Wellington office, interior designer Suzy Martin and technician Lottie Vandervis to create the new $7.8 million building with a dramatic floor-to-ceiling glass wall with louvred windows on the north and a curved prow towards the sea, all clad externally in cedar and internally in pine plywood.


Auckland councillor Chris Darby said patronage was up four-fold since the February 2 opening and chief librarian Allison Dobbie said around 30,000 people had visited in less than a month.

Rennie and Strachan felt challenged by vociferous community division on controversial plans to replace an existing dated, dark, 733sq m leaking library on the site where ownership had been disputed. Many locals opposed the new building and questioned the need for it.

Now, the architects say they are overwhelmed by people's response and although the footprint is much the same, the mezzanine vastly increased the area.

"It's how people are using the building in ways we never imagined," Rennie says, citing a circular porthole window envisaged for one person but where sometimes four sit.

British cruise ship passengers were last week seated outside, using the free broadband to talk to relatives at home and a woman and her dog rest at the curved prow-like Victoria Rd/King Edward Parade edge.

Black and white floor coverings designed by Suzy Martin were inspired by tukutuku panels but Strachan says they are also highly practical because the durable industrial-strength carpet tiles can be removed in smaller sections if they are damaged. The level of detail is charming - the pine plywood-clad internal staircase is itself a book shelf, new meeting/study rooms have been developed, the former Devonport Borough mayoral chair is incorporated into a living-room style seating and wide gas fireplaces have been built upstairs and down.

The late Sir Ian Athfield has been credited with the library being his last job but Rennie clarified that: "It's not so much Ath's project as the first project of his legacy."

As for the anti-fight cushions, Rennie showed off an amphitheatre-style teen zone with wide stepped seating, providing a space for readings or performance. Pillows had fight potential so Martin chose striped oblong seating squabs.


Sue Parr, library manager, estimated Benjamin was born around 2002. This stroppy striped local has a microchip which allows him the privilege of entering and exiting through his own staff room cat door.

"Benjamin is very much part of the community so it was important to incorporate his needs in our design," Strachan said.

Thoughtful details inside and out

A pavilion in the park was the architectural concept behind Devonport's new library, which has glue-laminated pinus radiata trusses, a veranda wrapping around the front entranceway and extensive glazing with horizontal louvres.

Natural materials were selected so the structure does not clash with Windsor Reserve.

"This is to frame and foreground the views from the building with the blues and greens of the park and harbour," explained Athfield Architects' Jon Rennie.

"Formally, there are two elements: a double height veranda on the western side that in turn is wrapped on the colder southeastern face by snug spaces. These are smaller and more formal and intimate. Each area enables users to find their own place in the library - to commune with their neighbours or to be alone together if they wish," Rennie said.


The interior approach was to give warmth via natural materials and create a welcoming, domestic atmosphere.

"We endeavoured to match the best elements of traditional and contemporary libraries and to use a range of furniture that could accommodate both bits of the existing collection," he said.

Interior designer Suzy Martin's floor coverings were inspired by the black and white tiled floors in Victorian villas.

"In libraries, carpet is required for acoustic reasons and Auckland Libraries require carpet tiles to be used so that areas of wear and tear can be easily patched. We have taken two standard black and white carpet floor tiles and used them to create a number of varied patterns throughout the building," he said. "The scale and type of patterns vary, depending on ... the space that they are in, so they are large in browsing space but small in [the] children's area; the nature of the activity in the space so they are dynamic in teens, ordered in non-fiction; or, the narrative of that space - Mana whenua's patterns for flounder (knowledge/food) in the browsing space, staircase of learning in the community room."

Te Pataka Korero o Te Hau Kapua/Devonport Library

• In Windsor Reserve, North Shore.
• Designed by Athfield Architects, built by Naylor Love.
• External cladding: cedar.
• Internal cladding/wall linings: American Red cedar, pine plywood panels, dark stained oak.
• Totara entrance carving acknowledges mana whenua Ngati Whatua, Ngati Paoa, Te Kawerau a Maki, Ngati Maru, Ngai Tai ki Tamaki.
• Ventilation: mainly natural via louvre windows.
• Hi-tech under-floor heating: pipes near surface for speed/efficiency.
• Community meeting area for up to 100 people, with kitchen.
• New public toilets.
• Significant new art works including Te Rongo Kirkwood's Te Aho Maumahara - Sacred Strand of Memories.
• Mezzanine floor increased area from 733sq m to 950sq m.