New Brighton library - Christchurch

Fast facts

Location: Marine Parade, Christchurch

Construction: 1998-1999

Owner: Christchurch City Council

Design: Architecture Warren and Mahoney Associates

Contractor: Mainzeal

Case study researcher: Hannah Lewthwaite, Christchurch City Council

Key statistics

Site area: 2 ha (approximately)

Building area: 1422 m2 (approximately)

Commercial: 430 m2 (approximately)

Library: 992 m2 (approximately)

Foot traffic: 30,000 visits per month

Project value: $4 million

Parking: 90 parking spaces

Photo: Location map.

Photo: View of Pier Terminus and Clock Tower from New Brighton Mall.

Photo: The northern end of the Library.

Photo: Plan View of Library context.


The New Brighton Library is a $4 million urban renewal project for New Brighton, on the east coast of Christchurch City. The library site occupies two hectares of land and buildings adjacent to Marine Parade, between the Pier and New Brighton Mall.

The building was commissioned by the Christchurch City Council and designed by Barclay Architects who have since merged with Architecture Warren and Mahoney.

It is a highly successful project enjoyed by both the community and tourists. However, the project also highlights some of the problems that can occur through the lack of a multi-disciplinary approach.

Design process

The Christchurch City Council decided to redevelop the New Brighton beach area in 1994 following lobbying by an action group, and in 1997 completed the construction of a new 300 m pier. The pier took the City Council 18 months to complete at a cost of about $4 million. A terminus building was then proposed to complete the development, and in early 1998 Barclay Architects designed a building that included:

  • a 'new generational' library, designed for informality and to be used by all ages
  • a café
  • a retail area
  • new public space.

While the Council had not initially envisaged a library in this location, the library staff from the former New Brighton Library were highly in favour of the unique waterfront site.

The design process was relatively short as the pier could not be properly used until the terminus was complete. Consultation was brief and primarily undertaken with the library staff, who in turn consulted with library customers.

The library building was completed in eight months and opened on 24 July 1999. The library occupies most of the ground floor and part of the first floor of the building. A café adjoins the library on the ground floor, and there is a restaurant on the first floor.

The library provides a range of facilities including: 'living rooms' of books arranged under topics, TV, PlayStation, computer games and music listening posts. A 'play and display' area caters for small community meetings and exhibitions. The music listening stations are positioned so people can sit and listen to music while looking out over the Pacific Ocean.

Urban design issues

The brief for this project was to develop an iconic building for the lower income suburb of New Brighton and its under-used foreshore.

As part of the vision for the revitalisation of the area the Council required that the development incorporate the following design features:

  • space for retail
  • space for cafés
  • exciting and vibrant public spaces
  • access to the pier
  • seating areas to enjoy the views
  • a building that would create a focal point for the New Brighton community.

The architects saw the library as a "new generation highly-interactive, highly-accessible and socially-appropriate structure which would act as a centre for the community." [Andrew Barclay.]

The architects used contemporary library design and maritime architecture to inspire the building's form. The resulting form incorporates an elliptical plan with a slightly inclined curved roof which "... implies motion towards the bow of a modern ship," say the architects.

Evaluation - urban design principles


The library building is situated on the foreshore at the edge of the existing New Brighton Mall and is separated from the Mall by Marine Parade. It was intended to revitalise and bring new life to the run-down suburb of New Brighton. The library is very successful as a library, but, it has not acted as the catalyst for the wider commercial revitalisation of the Mall that was initially envisioned, partly due to its physical separation by Marine Parade.


The unique form of the library building is highly visible along the shoreline. It has been successful in providing an iconic building for the New Brighton suburb and contributes significantly to the sense of place.

However, there are aspects of the design which could have been improved. The building fails to create a good connection between the road, Mall, foreshore and the pier, as it does not read easily to pedestrians. For example, the main pedestrian entrance to the library is directly behind the existing heritage clock tower and is obscured from Marine Parade and the Mall. The building also obscures the view of the pier from the Mall and Marine Parade.

These design aspects have contributed to the building being perceived by some as having a barrier effect to pedestrians wanting to get access to the pier and the beach from Marine Parade and the Mall.


Besides a library, the building contains a café and a restaurant. The library and dining uses are compatible and have the potential to complement each other. They help to attract a range of people to the building and offer a variety of activities which keep the building in use for longer hours each day.

The library provides a range of uses including spaces for study, socialising or relaxing. Facilities include 'living rooms' of books, television, PlayStations and music listening posts. A 'play and display' area caters for small community meetings and exhibitions. The retail area (which currently contains the restaurant) is intended to be available for other retail uses in the future if necessary.


On a regional level, connections are good. Public transport is well provided for on this section of Marine Parade, as it is served by five existing bus routes that cover a large part of Christchurch.

On the local level, the library fails to provide good visual and physical connections to the adjacent New Brighton Mall, the pier and the foreshore. Marine Parade is still a barrier to connection between the library and the Mall. Similarly the library building fails to offer good connections to the foreshore, because the main access point to the pier and the foreshore is from the first floor.


The library is a bold architectural design that provides an iconic building for a run-down suburb. Within the library there is a range of `new generation' library facilities that encourage active participation, linked with other retail uses.


The library building is an impressive landmark on the New Brighton landscape. It is positioned to use natural light, with the building's long axis oriented north-south and the café placed at the northern end of the building. However, there have been problems with the library's internal temperature becoming uncomfortably hot with little way of moderating it.

There is a large Monteray Cyprus at the north end of the library building, which has been a prominent feature on the New Brighton foreshore for many years, and the library was built to accommodate this historic tree. The foundations of the building and surrounding paving area designed to minimise any adverse effects on the tree's root system.


Christchurch City Council led the project. Consultation was brief and primarily undertaken with the library staff, who in turn consulted with their customers.

Surveys show that the library successfully attracts local New Brighton residents, but it has not necessarily drawn people from the wider Christchurch area into New Brighton as originally intended. [(2002) New Brighton Library Residents Survey, Christchurch City Council.]

Lessons learnt

The New Brighton Library project was to provide an icon and a focal point to draw people back into the run-down suburb of New Brighton to aid in its revitalisation. However, design issues such as the poor connection between the Mall, Marine Parade, and the foreshore have not allowed the building to function to its full potential.

Shortly after the completion of the Pier Terminus building, it was requested that the heritage clock tower doors be kept open to reveal the library entrance.

These problems could have perhaps been avoided if:

  • a more multi-disciplinary approach had been taken
  • sound urban design principles had been incorporated in the early planning stages.

Value gained

Since it was first opened the project has enjoyed success as a library, tourist destination, and community focal point.

Foot traffic at the New Brighton Library has been very high with 380,000 visitors per annum, equating to 30,000 visits per month or 1000 per day. These figures are by far the highest foot count of any community library in Christchurch. The library is very popular in the weekends, especially with tourists.


"New Brighton (Library) has an outstanding and stunning location which has allowed us to do something special."

- Canterbury Public Library Manager, Sue Sutherland

"This is a beautiful outlook onto the beach - it will be a really exiting place to shop."

- City Council Property Projects Manager, Angus Smith

"It is a thrill to know I have only a 10-minute walk to get to a superb library, with what must be the best view in town."

- New Brighton Resident, Helen Campbell