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UC Library building wins excellence award

The University of Canterbury’s iconic Puaka-James Hight building has been recognised for its enduring excellence.

UC’s Puaka-James Hight building, which was New Zealand’s largest university building when it opened in 1974, has received the New Zealand Concrete Society’s Enduring Concrete Award in the Building and Civil Engineering Structures more than 25 years old category. The award recognises existing concrete structures still in use today that, when built, were milestones in the development of reinforced or pre-stressed concrete.

The award is a tribute to those who built and designed the building, and to those who have maintained it over the decades. UC Structural Engineering and Materials Professor Alessandro Palermo, of the Department of Civil and Natural Resources Engineering, accepted the award on the University’s behalf at the recent award ceremony.

Standing 53-metres-tall, Puaka-James Hight remains a key part of UC’s Ilam Campus. Floors 2 to 11 are occupied by the Central Library, providing services and collections to support Humanities, Social Sciences, Law, Business and Economics, Music, Education, and Fine Arts.

The Puaka-James Hight building was a major focal point in the total design, unifying the Ilam campus in 1972, when work on the new campus was at its height. Its Brutalist style of modernist architecture, featuring exposed concrete structure and surfaces, took four years to complete. It was named after Sir James Hight, a UC alumnus, professor, educational administrator and historian who was knighted in 1947 for his services to education.

The building was created with an exposed waffle slab concrete floor system, and original construction was led by contracting company C.S. Luney. In 1970 Governor-General Sir Arthur Porritt laid the foundation stone of the James Hight Library at Ilam, with around 300 guests in attendance. In his speech Sir Arthur said, “Most students go to University to drink from a fountain of knowledge – only a tiny minority are content merely with gargling – and what better fountain of knowledge can a university have than a library?”

The 12-storey building endured the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes as well as thousands of aftershocks, and as a result required repairs and upgrades. The University required the Puaka-James Hight building remain open during earthquake remedies and upgrades, so the repair was completed from top to bottom in stages including capital upgrade, earthquake repair and betterment. This work was completed by Hawkins in February 2013.

Key factors considered when judging the award were the building’s functional suitability and visual appearance, properties of concrete exploited in the design, innovative use of concrete in composition, structure and form, workmanship and finish, durability and performance, and value for money.

In the same New Zealand Concrete Society award ceremony, the South Rangitikei River Bridge won an award for an outstanding structure both in terms of aesthetics and innovation. The bridge’s main designer, Gavin Cormack from Beca, is an alumnus who received an Honorary Doctorate from UC in 2006. Dr Cormack graduated from UC in 1962 with a Bachelor of Engineering. Since 1969 he has been employed by Beca becoming Executive Chairman in 2000.


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