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Calgary's new Central Library

Calgary's new Central Library

Calgary's new Central Library has opened its doors to the public. The building, designed in collaboration with DIALOG, aims to welcome over twice as many annual visitors to its expanded facilities, filling a vital role for the rapidly expanding city. Calgary Public Library is one of the most actively used library systems in North America, where more than half of its residents are active cardholders, and accordingly, the new main branch was created for and inspired by its diverse inhabitants.

The building is sited within a complex urban condition, where a fully functional Light Rail Transit Line crosses the site from above to below ground on a curved half-moon path, dividing Downtown and East Village. In response, the design lifts the main entry over the encapsulated train line. Gently terraced slopes rise up to the heart of the building, allowing for people arriving from every direction to interact with the library. Doubling as a portal and a bridge, the entry plaza heals the previously-split seam between the two neighborhoods and re-establishes visual and pedestrian connections across the site.

Categories
Architecture, Landscape, Interior, Graphic Design, Culture, Education, Work Spaces, Public Space, Social & Meeting Spaces, Wayfinding & Signage
Timeline

2013 - 2018

Status

Completed

Location

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Typology

Main public library

Size

240,000 sqft (2/3 larger than original library)

Client

Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC)

Collaborators

DIALOG

The crystalline geometry of the façade is carved away to reveal an expansive wood archway that embraces visitors as they approach. Framing the entrance of the building, the form references the Chinook cloud arches common to the region.

The dynamic, triple-glazed facade is composed of a modular, hexagonal pattern that expresses the library's aims to provide a space that invites in all visitors. Aggregated variations on the hexagon form scatter across the building's curved surface in alternating panels of fritted glass and occasional iridescent aluminum. From these shapes emerge familiar forms: parts of the pattern might resemble an open book, snowflake-like linework, or interlocking houses, anchoring the ideas of the collective and community. 

The Calgary Public Library system is actively used by over 670,000 Calgarians (over half of its 1.2M population) and plays a major role in connecting residents from all walks of life.

The new Central Library will join Studio Bell, the Arts Commons, and the Glenbow Museum as part of a burgeoning cultural campus in downtown Calgary and East Village.

Organized on a spectrum of ‘Fun’ to ‘Serious,’ the library program locates the livelier public activities on the lower floors, gradually transitioning to quieter study areas on the upper levels as one spirals upwards. At the street level, a series of multi-purpose rooms line the perimeter of the building, enhancing the connectivity between inside and outside.

Throughout the four floors, a variety of spaces provide for digital, analog, group, and individual interactions.

 

Arriving at the northernmost point of the library, one finds oneself at the Living Room, overlooking the train line and the meeting point of the two neighborhoods. 

Natural light illuminates the Main Reading Room through the wood slats creating glancing sightlines between the atrium and western façade.

At the uppermost level of the library is the Great Reading Room, conceived as a jewel box tucked within the library, which provides a space for focused study and inspiration. Readers enter through a transitional space with softened light and acoustics. Within, vertical wood slats line the space to provide both privacy and visibility, defining an interior space without using solid walls. 

Wood slats line the perimeter of the open atrium, shaped in plan like a pointed ellipse, serving as an orientation device for people to quickly grasp the circulation and organizational logic of the library.