Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Spare a Moment for Massey

Massey Leisure Centre and Library. If the leisure centre stays,
perhaps they can
lop off Jeff Thomson’s “and library”.

The Prime Minister opened West Auckland’s new Massey Public Library in December 2001, a decade ago, symbolically placing a copy of her biography at the entrance. Its building was packed with eco-features and was at that time “the most arts rich public facility” to emerge from Waitakere City’s “arts/design collaborative process”. The next year it won three awards and was shortlisted for three more.

People who visit like “the nice feel” and the views, according to a study of Massey from 2006.* The library is used — so much was plain, last Sunday when I called in — and right now it has a wonderful display of local children’s poetry, co-ordinated by West Auckland poet Paula Green as part of “A Thousand Poems for Our Place” and National Poetry Day on July 22. But already a replacement building is planned, and it is scheduled for completion in 2013. Did something go badly wrong?
The present building is shared with the Massey Leisure Centre and the Citizens Advice Bureau, and the library’s usable space seems small. Split levels, curved walls and a ramp leave limited room for the sets of bookshelves, which appear cramped and close together. I wonder about the practicality of other elements, too, such as the moat-like stretch of water outside, which I understand goes below the building to act as an eco-friendly cooling system. It’s nice, but how much work is needed to keep it clean and free of the junk that people love to toss in any public “water feature”? 
The split-level children’s section
has students’ poems on the pillars.
Moated: outside the library.
The library–leisure centre is on a rise with, on one side, a stunning view over trees, residential roofs and out across the Waitemata Harbour to the Sky Tower. From another angle it looks down on the far less aesthetically pleasing Westgate Shopping Centre. 

It’s Not Just about the Library
I was keen to publish this Massey library post while the poetry was on display, and took the silence following my email to Auckland Council as encouragement to draw my own conclusions based on what I’d call informed conjecture. A couple of days’ online reading and direct observation have suggested what should seldom come as a surprise: that the local public library is subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, fashion, town planning, and politics. In short, what happens with a library is not just about the library.

It’s surely significant that in Massey, the present library is three times as big as its predecessor further down Don Buck Road, and that the 2013 building will in turn be three times the size of the 2001 facility. I suspect that rapid population growth has combined with politicians’ age-old inability to be farsighted and generous enough when using the public purse for the public good (lest, at the end of the short, short term, we vote them out).

The whole area near the end of today’s Northwestern Motorway lacks a hub for its more than 20,000 residents, according to the 2006 study of Massey commissioned by the then Waitakere City Council. The study surveyed 400 people, and uses words like “scattered” and “disjointed” to describe the community, whose suburbs now include West Harbour as well as the original Massey and its progeny East, West and North. A community project the council devised, Massey Matters, has since worked to build neighbourhood links, with some success, but more is needed. 
The Massey library entrance, with the issues
and returns area (left) and Kate Wells’s
carpet (right), picturing local history and plants.
“Massey” is named after William Ferguson Massey. He spent just one term (1894–6) as MP for the Waitemata electorate that covered much of West Auckland, then returned to familiar Franklin and became, eventually, Prime Minister. There was a post office in Don Buck Road from the 1930s but most of Massey’s residential development occurred from the 1950s, creating a dormitory suburb whose inhabitants generally commuted to work elsewhere.

In 1998 the Westgate Shopping Centre opened on Massey’s outskirts. It’s hideous, and I can understand the feelings of one study participant, who contrasted it with “beautiful” Botany Downs: “the way [Westgate] turned out we were just so disappointed. It just seemed like ‘Oh Massey’s not quite good enough to have this beautiful shopping centre’.”

From Strawberry Fields to Town Centre
With the population continuing to grow and the Westgate shops perfectly positioned (but not perfectly formed) to meet it, you can see why Waitakere’s council hit on the idea of developing a “Westgate Town Centre” that would serve the northwest borderlands, including Massey North.

In 2002 the council approached the shopping centre’s owner, the New Zealand Retail Property Group, with the idea of building a town centre opposite. Under their partnership, and with Auckland Regional Council permission to extend urban sprawl, this is approaching reality. Former strawberry fields will grow espaliered urban streets, presumably just as quickly as the paddocks across the road raised box-like buildings for retail giants and rolled out expansive tarsealed, road-marked carparks for their customers. (Perhaps in a more attractive manner — and dare I hope that a few strawberry growers will continue to flourish on the road to Kumeu? George’s Strawberry Garden is a particular favourite.) 

Massey library bookshelves,
viewed from the ramp.
I am... Westgate? A car at the
Westgate Shopping Centre.

This year’s draft plan for the Henderson–Massey ward, in which both the present library and the shopping centre reside, predicts 10,000 new jobs in wider Westgate (including the town centre) and a need for 1700 new homes. Estimates have varied, with an earlier Waitakere City document talking of “7200 new jobs or more”. The draft plan, released this month and open to public submissions until August 8, proposes spending $13.411 million over two to five years on “managing the development of the new Westgate Library”. It will be designed for the Westgate Town Centre by Warren and Mahoney, the architects for the Glen Eden Public Library.

Ten Minutes’ Walk North
This may seem like a lot of money, but it’s not just about the library: it’s about creating a community hub for a place that has lacked one for the half-century of its urban existence. The public library will be at the symbolic and geographic centre, but it can’t be the centre all on its own. Perhaps that’s what the current location has shown.

Just after the present library opened and when planning was starting for the new town centre, says a Herald story, “it was known that the new Massey Library would be better placed a further 10 minutes’ walk north”. The library is less than a kilometre from Westgate Shopping Centre but the council study described it as “isolated from the shops”. If you were in the middle of the Westgate centre you would never know it was there. 

Moa Mountain, a “discovery play sculpture” designed by Kate Wells
and Renee Lambert, built by Iona Matheson and Jasmine Clark,
with leaf- and feather-shaped tiles by local students.
The library and leisure centre building is in the background.
Yes, the library is (according to the Herald story and other sources) “at capacity”. It needs more space as it is — but if it were in the right place with other community services, more people would use it and the rest of those essential services.

The existing building won the Ernst and Young Special Purposes Property Award, the Enhancing the Built Environment Award and the Premier Creative Places Award. It’s quite a looker, especially from the outside, and it was fun to photograph with all its art.

Warren and Mahoney’s Massey library is to be eco-friendly. That sounds familiar. The design of the building and the neighbouring town square is “motivated by the desire for a... civic environment which will serve the Westgate community for 100 years”. That sounds promising.

“Above all else,” say the architects, “the new library building has the responsibility to capture the aspirations of a future community”. Thus it must avoid architecture that appears “transient”, instead embodying “the recognised motifs of community, tradition and civic character”. Good, good.

The Westgate Town Centre’s “lead artist”, Titirangi-based Robin Rawstorne, talks of the library being an exciting part of his brief, enabling him to “design a captivating and dynamic interior landscape for the children’s library... a curving timber room with the prime focus being the experience, and... interactive elements as well as places to relax and read.”** 

Yes, excellent. Just allow enough room for the books, please, as well as the bells and whistles — and make sure the new, new library will be able to stay in one place for a good long while.

* The report is available for download:  
** Robin Rawstorne, interviewed in Art Link: Arts & Culture West, no. 1, 2011.

Local student Jayden took inspiration from the Sky Tower
in his poem, on display at Massey Public Library.

1 comment:

  1. Patricia Kay wrote: "I wanted to say that the Massey Library should stay where it is because of the view! Visited this morning again - how did I miss it last time? Just loved the view over the water towards the city and the bridge - could sit there all day."
    Apologies to Patricia and anyone else who's had difficulty adding a comment to this post.