Arts feature for Maclean’s, September 24, 2015.
At the end of this month, Calgary will break ground on a $245-million, 240,000-sq-ft. library in the East Village, a former industrial neighbourhood being groomed for revitalization. It’s the city’s most expensive, largest-scale undertaking in decades: Its glassy blue-grey facade, resembling a canoe-cum-spaceship, careens over a curving light-rail track, luring in pedestrians with an outdoor café and transparent theatre space. It will house 600,000 books, a technology commons, an innovation lab and $2 million in public art initiatives.
“It’s not just a building to hold books or a building to hold technology,” says Rob Adamson, a principal at Dialog, the local firm developing the project with Norwegian designers Snøhetta. “It’s really a building for people‚ because any building filled with books is just a warehouse of books.”
Among Canadian cities, Calgary isn’t alone. While a glorified warehouse of books—which also sells housewares, electronics, clothes and toys, and promises to deliver all by drone—has turned on its head the bookselling business, we are seeing something of a renaissance in library design. The ebook has not staunched libraries’ innovation; it’s paved the way for it. The public library in Orillia, Ont., opened in 2011, combines double-height windows with Spanish terracotta tiles to match the nearby Victorian-era opera house, in what’s fast becoming a warm and inviting cultural neighbourhood. Surrey, B.C.’s LEED Gold–certified city-centre library boasts a green roof, a meditation area and a gaming room with a flat-screen TV. The Halifax Central Library is a stunning, $57.6-million building with a looming glass cantilever hanging over a stack of glass boxes; Edmonton has hired a “robot handler” to teach hacking and host robo-battles; and, in a Quebec City suburb, the Bibliothèque Monique-Corriveau rents out pedometers as part of a public walking initiative.
“Libraries are no longer these temples or repositories of books; they’re much more community centres, really—the urban living room,” says Shirley Blumberg, a founding partner of KPMB Architects, which designed downtown Toronto’s sleek new Fort York branch. Like branches across Canada, Fort York boasts a free-for-use 3D printer and makers’ space; visitors have created jewellery and toys, and one couple made tiny cake-topper replicas of themselves for their upcoming wedding—all for free.
These phrases—“urban living room,” “makers’ space”—are among a flurry of modern buzzwords being thrust into public vernacular by architects, urban designers and city planners. They describe libraries as an ideal “third place” (as opposed to the first two, home and work), no longer “temples of knowledge,” but rather “innovation labs” and “community spaces” with “digital literary librarians.” The message is clear: Libraries are no longer just for books. Libraries are part of the future.
Read the full article on Maclean’s website.