Heritage New Zealand is proposing to make Wellington's Central Library building a Category 1 Historic Place.

If successful, it will be the first heritage place listed from the 1990s.

The library - which opened in 1991 - was closed in March last year because of newfound seismic concerns after Statistics House partially collapsed in the Kaikōura earthquake.

Wellington City Council has received more than 1300 submissions on proposed remediation options.


They include strengthening the library to various levels of the New Building Standard as well as demolishing it and building from scratch.

But a heritage listing would make demolition increasingly difficult.

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Heritage New Zealand has completed a report providing evidence in support of getting the building listed.

"Wellington Central Library possesses outstanding architectural significance as a highly esteemed postmodern building, employing classical architectural forms, historical references and varied shapes and materials to arresting effect," the report said.

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 opened in 1991 and proved to be a popular and critical success, attracting more than 1 million visitors each year and winning three major architectural awards.

Apart from alterations made to the lobby in 1997 and 2000, the building was largely unchanged when it was closed.

The exterior nīkau palm columns swiftly gained local icon status and were used in library and city marketing and branding, the report said.

The library's exterior nīkau palm columns have become iconic. Photo / Supplied
The library's exterior nīkau palm columns have become iconic. Photo / Supplied

This tree is indigenous to the Wellington region and used in customary Māori housing.

"Nodding to history, in this instance through the palms and employment of the classical colonnade, is a quintessentially postmodern device.

"The palms also add a sense of playfulness to the building, another hallmark of postmodernism."

The curved glass façade facing Te Ngākau Civic Square is another well-known aspect of the building.

"From the outside it reflects people and buildings in the Square and shallow pools between the glass façade and the old library provide additional visual interest and create further connections with the sea.

"Built on land once under the sea, the library's relationship with the water is symbolised by these connections."


Athfield died in January 2015 after surgery for cancer and the Wellington Central Library was referred to in media reports and obituaries as one of his most acclaimed buildings.

Books could still be seen inside the building more than a year after it was closed. Photo / Georgina Campbell
Books could still be seen inside the building more than a year after it was closed. Photo / Georgina Campbell

Heritage New Zealand central region director Jamie Jacobs said the listing report would be publicly available from tomorrow and the public had until October 13 to make submissions.

"The library has been affectionately dubbed 'Wellington's living room' because it has been much-loved and visited over the years.

"We'd like the public to read the listing report and send us their thoughts on the merits of recognising its significance. All submissions are really appreciated as they add to our knowledge of the library and how it is viewed."

If it is listed, demolition protection would come through scheduling on the Wellington City Council's district plan.

Public consultation on the future of the library concluded this week.


More than 1360 people entered written submissions and councillors will hear oral submissions from about 60 individuals and organisations.

Wellington City Councillors will also be presented the results of an independent representative survey of 1000 residents from the region.

Mayor Andy Foster said the number of submissions showed how passionate Wellingtonians were about the library.

"We are listening very carefully to our community, and all this feedback will help guide the decisions we need to take in October."

The most expensive repair option, and therefore the most resilient, would cost $199.8 million and bring the building to 100 per cent of the NBS.

The cheapest repair would cost $90.8m and bring the building to 40 per cent of the standard.


It means after a significant earthquake the damage could be irreparable and the building unable to be occupied again for about a year.

The mid-range repair option would cost $151.8m and bring the building up to 80 per cent of the code. The building would still be considerably damaged in a big earthquake.

Councillors have explicitly ruled out privatising the library.

But demolishing the library and replacing it is also on the table, although councillors have already agreed their preference is to strengthen it.

A new library the same size as the existing one would cost $160.7m.

But replacing it with a building the same size as Christchurch's new library, Tūranga, would only cost $90.4m.