March 16, 2018

Rising Above | Library Design 2017

OPEN TO INSPIRATION Open spaces, sight lines, and natural light comprise the key elements of the plan for the new Calgary Public Library, as seen in these renderings by architect Snøhetta

By the time it opens in 2018, the Calgary Public Library’s (CPL) new Central Library will have been 14 years in the making. In 2004, the City of Calgary, Alta., first allocated funding to study its residents’ future library needs. Since then it has committed a whopping $175 million (in Canadian dollars, or $128 million U.S.) to the project, out of a total estimated cost of $245 million (about $180 million U.S.).

The Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), a subsidiary of the City of Calgary, has been working to revitalize the Rivers District—beginning with East Village—since 2007. In 2013, CMLC committed $70 million ($51 million U.S.) toward the new Central Library and “is responsible for delivering a finished library,” according the website.

Adding value

Because that budget, substantial as it is, still isn’t sufficient to achieve all its ambitious goals, the city also launched Add-In, the Calgary Public Library Foundation’s campaign, which raises significant private donations to supplement the city’s public offering—in fact, more than doubles it, with a goal of $350 million ($257 million U.S.). Of that, $301.6 million ($221 million U.S.) had been raised as of February 7. The campaign’s four pillars—Information, Inspiration, Imagination, and Innovation—were funded at 70 percent, 75 percent, 87 percent, and 89 percent, respectively. “While the New Central Library is fully funded, Add In aims to bring the landmark building to life with programs, services, and sophisticated uses of spaces and technology,” the project site states.

Interestingly, the Add-In campaign ties investment in the whole system and all its branches to the new Central project. A $1 million contribution from TD Bank (roughly $730,000 U.S.), for example, will bankroll not only Central’s TD Great Reading Room but also the TD Family Program Room at the Fish Creek Library. Add In positions itself less as a charity than as a strategic “social investment” in the city’s future.

Bringing community contributions to the new library within reach of the individual patron, CPL funded its new Idea Lab studio space through one of the most democratic methods around—Kickstarter. It offers whiteboard walls, prototyping tools, design-thinking exercises, and “fun technology,” plus a touch screen projector and smartboard. Unlike many library Maker spaces, the whole thing can be booked by groups for community collaborations.

Bridging The Gap

High-profile international architect firm Snøhetta, which designed academic libraries for Temple, Ryerson, and North Carolina State universities, as well as the new Library of Alexandria and Queens Library’s new Far Rockaway branch, serves as the design architect. Snøhetta partnered with local architecture and design firm DIALOG, which also conceived the Riddell Library and Learning Centre at Canada’s Mount Royal University, to serve as executive architect, mechanical, landscape, and urban design.

Following a two-year process of community engagement, the library broke ground in 2013 for what will eventually be a 240,000 square foot building, housing about 600,000 books, and targeting Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. The scheme was inspired by what the firm calls “the city’s diverse urban culture and unique climate.” For example, the open entry at the building’s heart will be framed by wood-clad arches “that reference the ‘chinook’ arch cloud formations common to Alberta,” according to Snøhetta.

The new Calgary library will serve as a bridge among communities much more literally than such institutions usually do: according to DIALOG, the half-moon-shaped site is bisected by a light rail train tunnel that emerges at the north end of the property. The new design will form a bridge over the tunnel via a terraced plaza, connecting the redeveloped East Village area with the city’s downtown and offering entry into the library. At press time, the encapsulation of the tunnel—an engineering challenge handled by lead project manager MHPM, structural engineering firm Entuitive, and construction manager Stuart Olson—was complete, as was the frame of the building, including concrete columns, floors, and steel supports, and the exterior cladding. The tunnel encapsulation alone cost around $70 million.

The skylit atrium and “clear and fritted glass openings” on the façade will control daylight levels for the interior. Low-iron glazing will allow for clear views and a natural appearance, while triple glazing will reduce heat loss and solar gain. Traffic around the staircase that hugs the outer walls (pictured p. 28) will serve as wayfinding—visitors can see at a glance where they want to go. Colored tiles will also assist with navigation, indicating one’s location within the building.

Public programs are offered on the ground floors, beginning with the Community Commons (home to conference rooms with free public access), a 340-seat theater, and a 1,500 square foot café. The next few floors house the atrium; displays, the Maker space, the children’s area, and the fiction collection; and the teen space and public-facing technology, before spiraling up to the great reading room and local history area for quieter, focused study.

“We approached building our new Central Library as an opportunity to reimagine our entire system,” says Bill Ptacek, CEO, Calgary Public Library. “That means that the same surprise and delight that shine through the architecture of our new flagship library find their way into all 19 (soon to be 21) of our buildings, as well as our programs and services. This enterprise is about creating an entire set of exceptional experiences for our membership—at our smallest [facility] right on through to our 240,000 square foot new Central.”

This article was published in Library Journal's May 15, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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