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CalgaryArt & Design

Not just a pretty building: the new Calgary library

Discover this building, the largest public investment since the olympic winter games in 1988.

Calgary has created this vital and innovative community space at the junction between downtown and the East Village.

Completed in late 2018, the $245-million facility is composed of a modular pattern unique to Calgary and the larger library world. The dynamic project is the culmination of the Calgary Public Library system’s collaboration with design architectural firms Snøhetta and DIALOG, winners of a 2013 international search competition.

A cornerstone of Snøhetta/DIALOG’s winning Calgary scheme is the facade’s snowflake-like, hexagonal pattern reflecting the pages of an open book, which, from the inside, offers patrons views of the region’s mountain, prairie, and cityscapes from numerous perspectives. “We liked how the hexagonal shape allowed the facade to be constructed in multiple ways,” says Anne-Rachel Schiffmann, a Snøhetta senior architect serving as the firm’s director of interior architecture. “We could open up views as well as focus on them.”

The new building is situated at the city’s division point between Downtown and East Village, where a fully operational Light Rail Transit Line disconnects the two communities. The library’s function, in part, was to bring these two urban pockets together. The building achieves its goal by lifting the main entry over the encapsulated train line. Terraced slopes allow patrons to arrive from every direction; outdoor amphitheatres offer places to sit and library programs to spill outside. “Doubling as a portal and a bridge,” states Snøhetta design documents, “the entry plaza heals the previously split seam between the two neighbourhoods and re-establishes visual and pedestrian connections across the site.”

The library also strives to provide a space inclusive of all visitors. An expansive wooden archway—a reference to chinook cloud arches so familiar to Albertans—is meant to embrace approaching visitors. Indoors, wood continues to play an important role, spiralling upwards more than 85 feet to a view of the sky through an oculus. Stairs, guardrails, shelving, panelling in reading rooms, even display nooks for precious artifacts have been formed out of local hemlock. It’s a vital feature that Schiffmann says offers “a physical connection to the building.”

The six-floor structure is a multi-use take on a modern library, with a variety of spaces for digital, analog, group, and individual interaction. At the building’s base is the lively and community-friendly Living Room, which overlooks the train line and has been designed to invite people in while also encouraging them to look out. Each floor offers increased quiet, culminating in the Great Reading Room on the top floor—a space Snøhetta conceived as a “jewel box tucked within the library” complete with softened lighting and acoustics for focused study and inspiration.

All these features serve to establish the new Central Library as one of Calgary’s most dynamic public spaces—a non-commercial facility in which visitors can sit, read, learn, and share. From the moment it opened its doors in November 2018 the library was well used, says Schiffmann. “This is not just a pretty building!”

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Lori KnowlesJanuary 7th, 2020
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