Central Libraries of Canada, the United States and the World

Posted: January 6, 2012 in Librarianship
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Over the past 20 years there has been an incredible surge of public library construction.  Dozens of cities across the world have recognized the importance of central libraries as cornerstones of healthy and vibrant communities.  Populations continue to grow; technology improves by leaps and bounds and demands for library services increase with each passing year.  Central library construction is often the solution to these rising pressures. In each of the cases below, central libraries serve not only as civic investments with significant and measurable rates of return (economic, social, educational and cultural) but as points of pride that civic leaders can showcase worldwide.

Central Library Gallery:

Seattle (2004), Architects: Rem Koolhaus & Joshua Prince-Ramus: Seattle’s central library boasts not only a unique geometric design, but incorporates features which increase the functionality of the space.  The “Book Spiral” is a four storey high continuous shelf, allowing customers to peruse the entire non-fiction collection without using stairs.  The New Yorker famously declared the building to be “the most important new library to be built in a generation”.

Cambridge, Massachusetts (2009), Architect: William Rawn This library in Cambridge, Massachusetts combines the rich heritage of the original library (1888) with the functionality of a modern addition (2009).  The entire first floor of the addition is perfectly aligned to the plane of the ground, eliminating accessibility issues and allowing the exterior park to extend seamlessly indoors.

Sandro Penna, Italy (2004), Architects: Studio Italo Rota: The Biblioteca Sandro Penna in Perugia, Italy features an exterior skin of pink-hued glass.  The flying saucer shape allows for maximum daylight exposure.  After dusk, the exterior glass walls emit a warm glow and give the entire building the appearance of floating in mid-air.

Phoenix, Arizona (1995), Architects: bruderDWL Planners: The residents of Phoenix, Arizona are proud of their canyon shaped central library.  The southern face of the building is aligned with the movements of the sun, allowing for maximum exposure to sunlight on equinox days.  Computer controlled louvers redirect natural light by tracking the sun’s movement throughout the year.

Kansas City, Missouri (2003), Designer: Bob Holloway The central library in Kansas City, Missouri features perhaps the most unique library parking lot in the world.  The façade appears as a giant bookshelf featuring 22 classic titles.  The “books” are each 25 feet tall by 9 feet wide and are made out of weather resistant mylar springboard.

Vancouver (1995), Architects: Diamond & Schmidt: Vancouver’s central library resembles the Roman Coliseum and features a huge rooftop garden.  A glass façade surrounds an enclosed streetscape and walking mall.  The mall connects the library to retail shops, restaurants and a host of municipal and federal government service points.

Grande Bibliotheque de Quebec, Montreal (2005), Architect: Patkau: The Grande Bibliotheque de Quebec is connected to Montreal’s La Ville Souterraine (the underground city).  By tapping into the underground concourse, library customers can access transit (La Metro), shopping, universities, museums, and restaurants without ever setting foot outside.

Salt Lake City, Utah (2003), Architect: Moshe Safdie: The sunny atrium of the Salt Lake City central library is a focal point of the facility’s greening measures.  It provides natural light in such abundance that no electrical lighting is needed.  It also features a 60 foot high, 220 foot long glass “lens” on the southern facing which amplifies sunlight in order to heat the building.

Jose Vasconcelos, Mexico (2008), Architect: Eric Owen Moss: Incorporating massive pieces of visual art is a common trend in contemporary library construction.  The Jose Vasconcelos Library in Mexico City features Gabriel Orozco’s Ballena (Whale), a full-sized whale skeleton.  Every inch of bone is covered in hand-drawn geometric designs.

Halifax (2013), Architects: Fauler, Bauld & Mitchell: Not only is Halifax targeting LEED Silver for their planned central library, they’ve added some unique architectural tricks. The building is designed as an open-concept area, but sound dampening acoustics will allows customers to speak freely without disturbing other visitors.  An interior amphitheatre will feature seating that will fold flat into the floor and the walls will be configurable to accommodate groups of different sizes.


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