Te Ara Ātea: the intersection between culture and community

December 6, 2021
Te Ara Ātea is set to become a community anchor point, providing a place for learning and connection that celebrates the district’s heritage and people.

Te Ara Ātea, the new library, community and performance facility designed by Warren and Mahoney, opened to the public this month.

It is the anchor landmark building for the future Rolleston Town Centre, situated on an area that was previously part of the Rolleston Reserve.

Following Selwyn District Council’s extensive community consultation, Warren and Mahoney utilised this vital local knowledge to form the backbone of the briefing and design process, delivering a community facility that is directly formed from its community’s needs.

In consultation with Te Taumutu Rūnanga, the name Te Ara Ātea was gifted to the project, meaning ‘unobstructed trail to the world and beyond.’

The Tūterakiwhanoa and Te Kete Ika a Rākaihautū traditions became key design drivers throughout the design stages of the project. The cultural narrative is expressed both externally within the façade and entrances and internally within the interior of the larger library, community and performance spaces. These are connected via a fluid double-height atrium with a centrally located jewel-like space called Te Waka Huia, providing a display, research and reflection space for significant local taonga..

Internally, the key themes of the narrative have been integrated in both a playful and meaningful way, creating an environment and experience that is rich and multi-layered, provoking a sense of delight and discovery.

Alongside the cultural narrative, strong historical rail, rural and Selwyn District contextual ties are also referenced. In partnership with Warren and Mahoney, Workshop e, leaders in exhibition and experiential design, development and production, created digital and analogue elements that weave together a tapestry of story and history, embedding visitors into the unique cultural and geographical context. With a rich culture narrative and a blank canvas to work from, the team created a distinctive civic project that is unique in its outcome.

Integrated artwork and museum collections feature throughout, adding another layer of discovery. A 35m long curved digital wall plays artwork and will evolve over time with a range of digital artists being invited to engage with the technology. The intelligent AV and technology integration secure it as a futureproofed space for the community to enjoy and engage with, long into the future.

“The space has a strong community focus and challenges the typical preconceptions of a ‘library’,” says Warren and Mahoney Associate Principal and interior designer on the project, Bridget Watson.

“Selwyn District Council and the collaboration of the wider design team worked hard to connect community needs with cultural heritage at all levels. The result is not only a library but a flexible, multi-purpose community and performance space that acts as a hybrid museum and live history tour.”

Warren and Mahoney Project Principal, Jonathan Coote, says the area has been designed closely with a great deal of engagement to allow for future flexibility.

“Te Ara Ātea will act as a beacon, not only in location, but for the diverse and growing Selwyn District community it serves.

“The multi-functional space will encourage and facilitate community gathering, activities, recreation and reflection. The design outcome that has been achieved with this project is a testament to a strong cultural narrative, coupled with a people-centric approach.”

Designed by: Warren and Mahoney

Project Partners: Inovo Projects TM Consultants, Acoustic Engineering Services, Kaizon Engineering, Workshop e, Armitage Williams

Location: Rolleston, New Zealand

Client: Selwyn District Council