Cindy (Jingyuan) Huang

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Hero image Cindy Huang
Library-City Queen Street Elevation

Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s central city is suffering social depletion and devitalisation due to a pandemic and the new remaking and commercialisation of civic life at its waterfront. In response, Library-City seeks to revitalise and re-socialise public urban space at the intersection of the city’s learning and entertainment quarters. Counter to the neo-liberal orchestration of desires through consumption, this project seeks to catalyse greater social agency and civic identity through the nexus of learning. Library-City imagines a centrifugal urban intervention that takes the Central City Library as its pivot. Spun outwards, it proposes a revised typology and operation for libraries — one that radicalises the institutional framework around collecting and managing knowledge by amplifying and diversifying social learning and variable plays in knowing.

This thesis has pursued a more comprehensive socio-cultural mission to sustain and build collective identities. The making of civic identity was not conceptualised as a fixed state but considered a constantly fluctuating and inventive mission. This involved the dualistic sustaining and recovery of temporal signs in the architecture whilst simultaneously seeding opportunities for creating new ones. These temporal signs are not necessarily visible and may persist through their absence, as is the case for recovering Waihorotiu.

Early composite mapping documents these temporal signs of the city; current and historic; and across the social, cultural and ecological scenes. Geographically and conceptually, the Central City Library site was identified as a critical intersection and concentration of these conditions. Upon closer inspection, the contemporary library typology demonstrates an inclination towards civic and city-making in their community outreach and their ability to respond to diversifying civic life. Through digital and pop-up interventionist information dissemination strategies, libraries can orchestrate and sustain social performances and relevancy beyond their building footprints. The project here seeks to leverage the inherent social instrumentality of public libraries, finding it a catalyst for revitalising socially-expressive life. A proposition begins to form; what if we were to ‘draw out’ the social performance of the library and re-insert or ‘seed’ them as social activators into the city fabric?



To catalyse this radicalisation of the library to the city, a series of learning devices or ‘machines’ were devised. They are imagined as nomadic knowledge vehicles which travel beyond the footprint to engage users in playful forms of learning. These models test how diverse knowledge and ‘knowing’ can be staged and thereby propose new ways for experiencing and interfacing the library.

Increasing in scale, the field models move beyond the architectural object towards more expansive systems of library organisation across a programmatic landscape. More specifically, the ground surface is manipulated, in the literal sense, as an active framework for containing and enabling the new library system and ecological systems.

The performative actions of the library devices and fields were ‘set in motion’ across the urban block and broader city terrain, a mobilisation giving rise to synergistic interventions drawing together neglected buildings inclusive of the St James Theatre, the ASB tower and a demolished cinema complex (Lido, Odeon and Regent theatres).


Finished Product

Library-City presents a complex ecosystem of architectural and ecological infrastructure which remediates and reproduces various facets of human connectiveness to place via the active frontier of learning and play. The remediated urban block seeks to attract serendipitous social and learning encounters through porous programmatic corridors that serve as new public routes in the city. In the broader outreach of the network, mobile learning machines, which participate in programmatic zones onsite, can venture beyond the block to further reappropriate and instigate social and learning encounters across the wider isthmus.


Critic's Text

Cindy gives us a vision of Midtown Auckland that is utterly contrary to its current shabby, relatively underpopulated state. Conceived in 2021, in the shadow of the then ongoing Covid-19 lockdowns, the project addresses both the general malaise that had taken hold of the CBD at this time, and the drift of workers, shoppers and business interests to the harbour edge—bolstered by considerable building capital and Council-driven public space improvements there. In her project, two historically significant city blocks making up a key intersection of Auckland Council’s ‘Learning’ and ‘Entertainment’ precincts are reconfigured. Inclusive of key buildings such as the Auckland Central Library, the St James Theatre, and the old ASB Banking Head Office, Cindy introduces the possibility of a “playful city”, an urbanism through which architectural and social engagement is released from previous strictures and expectations.

Emphasising mobility and flexibility over fixity, the project, titled “Library-City” imagines a new type of library on the site of the current one—itself having reached the end of its current serviceable life. Rather than a place to hold and store collections of books and artefacts, Cindy’s Library-City builds on the inherent centrifugal dynamic of libraries—their borrowing function—to imagine and design for a more immediately dispersive rationale: a radically porous library is decantated into the surrounding built fabric. Released from its immediate footprint, previous built space becomes a wetland resonant with that found here prior to colonisation. Anything but decorative, the new open bodies of water flooding the library's old storage basements are linked to a broader waterway ecology, one that filters roadway surface runoff through wetland planting, and which links this ‘learning precinct’ back to the Waitemata Harbour through a parallel ‘daylighting’ of the Waihorotiu Stream. In place of an either/or scenario for city vitality, Cindy gives a synergistic and interwoven ecology. Yet her ‘learning from waterways’ goes further: midtown itself is seen as a learning field in which a new porous library disperses “learning devices”, playful and inventively interactive mobile carts that catalyse in innumerable ways, social occasions of varying scale—anywhere from festivals to intimate reading.

Highly commended in the Te Kāhui Whaihanga New Zealand Institute of Architects annual Student Design Awards, the judges capped their commentary on the project with the imperative—“Somebody call the Mayor!” Some years on from the awards, and in the wake of ubiquitous flooding that has afflicted Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and other parts of Aotearoa, Library-City stands as a compelling exemplar for what ‘spongy-cities’ of the future can be like—places whose hydraulic-ecological intelligence is matched by a playful societal intelligence capable of exceeding certain capital (i)llogics savaging cities.

-Andrew Douglas, supervisor