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Artworks interpreting the local cultural and natural landscape bring life and personality to the space – Photo by Kirk Hargreaves, courtesy of Christchurch City Libraries

New community hub for seaside village Sumner –
By Lee Suckling

Surrounded by cliffs and boulders, the seaside village of Sumner in eastern Christchurch has largely felt left behind in the last six years of earthquake rebuild efforts.

Pre-2011 Sumner was a vibrant and eclectic surfing town and gateway to the Banks Peninsula’s specular views. When it was badly hit on 22 February 2011, however, many homes became uninhabitable and half of the village’s businesses closed. With falling rocks a continual problem that saw five years of shipping container fences line the entry to Sumner, the only tourism the area attracted was those interested in the devastation.

The newly opened Matuku Takotako: Sumner Centre is bringing life back
to Sumner village

Pre-quake, two of the mainstays of Sumner were the community library and community centre – two buildings that sat right in the heart of the village, and were frequented by children, the elderly and many in between.
 
An original library that had begun operating in 1883 by local residents was moved into the Sumner Borough Council Chambers in 1907 and had a purpose-built building completed in 1961. Beside it, the Sumner Community Centre included a hall which was extensively used for productions by the Sumner Theatre Group and others. Both buildings were demolished during 2011–2013.
 

A more modern presence

Located on the site of these two demolished buildings, the new Sumner Centre is a much more modern presence than the quaint seaside village is used to. It’s a 1300 sq m building incorporating a library, community hub office and atrium on the ground level, with the rest of the community functions, hall, kitchen and museum on the first level.
 
There was never any doubt Sumner wouldn’t have a library or community centre rebuilt – it was more a question of how, says architect Polly Dawes from Athfield Architects. “During consultation for the Sumner Village Centre master plan, a combined library, community centre and museum was identified as a key feature and community asset,” she says, referring to talks that began in 2014. “From there, community consultation was undertaken via a joint working group appointed by the Christchurch City Council’s Hagley/Ferrymead Community Board.
 
“Our building project team was involved for only the last couple of years [since 2015], and so we’re conscious that we’ve built on a history of consultation since the previous buildings were demolished after the quakes. It’s a relatively unusual programme of functions – combining library, community rooms and a museum, sharing amenities as well as a central atrium and external courtyard.”
 

Aesthetic strengths

Being so close to Sumner’s rocky hillside – there are overhanging cliffs just a few dozen metres away – safety was always going to be a community concern. “The scale of the precast form at the street corner is appropriate given its proximity to the hillside and the rockfall mitigation bunds,” says Ms Dawes.
 

Exterior construction as at February 2017 – being so close to Sumner’s rocky hillside, safety was an ongoing concern – Photo by Nigel Howard

In saying that, the design team at Athfield did not shy away from using the rough, rocky aesthetic of Sumner and playing to its strengths. “Rust-coloured textured concrete walls are designed to relate to the nearby volcanic cliffs, and we used several species of new and recycled timber for linings and joinery, combined with vibrant beachy colours throughout,” Ms Dawes says. “We were interested in an informal, hand-made quality to the forms and materials, rather than the machine aesthetic of a glass and steel structure.”
 
Athfield Architects was appointed alongside project manager TBIG in August 2015, and resource consent was approved and the tender let in April 2016. In July 2016, Armitage Williams was selected as the main contractor and construction of the 12-month project began.
 

Character and context

In terms of the Sumner Centre’s unique design and construction features, one of the key design drivers was to respond positively to the character and context of the seaside village of Sumner.
 
“Building hard to the street corner references the shape and volume of the demolished heritage building, suggesting a memory of how the streetscape used to be,” says Ms Dawes. “This sense of history is reinforced by reusing a number of elements salvaged from the previous buildings – a war memorial, foundation stone, timber trusses and doors, and a time capsule.”
 
Externally, the different shapes and materials used in the building give identity to the various spaces inside. The timber glulam fins near the entrance – by Timber Lab – are particularly interesting. “Among other design aspects, these help reduce the scale of the structure so that it fits into the neighbourhood,” Ms Dawes adds, noting that window openings are also ‘human-sized’ to the activities within, rather than being wall-to-wall glazing.
 
As for the way it would be used, the project team were keen to break down the threshold of the traditional library service model. “So in some ways the building helps with that, as all of the public spaces are seen as part of the library – not just behind the security screens,” Ms Dawes explains.
 
“We saw the central atrium as key to linking the ground and first floors together as one building, where the functions overlap and there is a real generosity of circulation area and volume. All the spaces in the building connect physically and visually to the atrium, to aid way-finding, movement of natural light, ventilation and smoke extraction.” 
 

‘Kiwi bach’ feel

Inside, several species of new and recycled kauri and rimu were used for linings and joinery, alongside a number of other natural timbers, including laminated radiata pine, plywood, macrocarpa, larch and ash. All of these reference the ‘Kiwi bach and driftwood’ feel of the suburb.
 
The steel contractor was Waimak Structural Steel, with precast panels by Lanyon & Le Compte Construction, larch cladding supplied by Rosenfeld Kidson and installed by AW, and architectural metalwork by Falcon Hammersley. Technical contractors included structural/civil engineering from Quoin, services engineering from Mott MacDonald, fire engineering from Olsson Fire & Risk, acoustic engineering from AES, and quantity surveying by AECOM.
 
Furthermore, artworks by Fayne Robinson and Brent Brownlee bring real life and personality to the space. “[They] offer a ‘window into the world’ interpreting the local cultural and natural landscape through their carvings and designs,” Ms Dawes adds.
 

Positive response

The centre is officially named Matuku Takotako, the original Ngai Tahu name for Sumner Beach, to reflect the community and enhance the local iwi identity. Community response since opening in August 2017 has been positive, and the centre is receiving an influx of daily patronage.
 
“We’re looking forward to seeing how the various spaces are used, and how that evolves into a sense of ‘ownership’ of the building by the local community and the variety of users of all ages,” Ms Dawes says. “Hopefully, the building offers a flexible enough framework to suit different activities and experiences over time.”
 
Freelance writer Lee Suckling has lived and worked across the globe, but is now based in Christchurch; his specialties include interiors, architecture, construction and urban planning   lee.suckling@gmail.com


 


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