Calgary Central Library
Just east of downtown, a vibrant new district is taking shape in Calgary. Blocks away from Norman Foster’s iconic bowed tower and Bjarke Ingels’ soon-to-be-complete first built project in the city, Calgary’s new central library, designed by Snøhetta and Canadian firm DIALOG, has just opened to the public. Located on a site within a master planned redevelopment of the city’s East Village, the opening of the new Central Library marks a major milestone in Calgary’s urban renewal.
The city’s largest public investment since the 1988 Olympics, the new Central Library provides a contemporary—and much needed—new home for the city’s library system. Utilized by more than half of Calgarians annually, the city’s public library system is one of the largest and most active in North America. Until now, the Calgary Public Library system sorely lacked a twenty-first century hub designed to meet contemporary needs. The new building, which spans six floors and 240,000 square feet, is two-thirds bigger than its ageing predecessor, offering a myriad of new types of spaces and resources.
The new library’s oblong site presented a unique challenge to the designers: accommodate an active light rail line which bisects the site, while creating an array of public spaces at-grade and above. Designers responded by raising the library to perch atop a tunnel framing the half-moon shaped rail line, allowing it to guide the design in practical and esoteric ways.
Reminiscent of Snøhetta’s design for Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre in Toronto, the new Calgary Central Library is transparent and open with a vibrant combination of spatial programming. Clad in a modular, hexagonal facade, the building glows like a lantern at night while providing ample daylight through to its core—a vital element in a city with a six-month winter season. Surrounded by natural grasses and framed by gently sloping public plazas, the new library’s design is intended welcome visitors from the outset.
“The new building provides spaces for all types of people and activities—for social interaction and exchange, for studying and learning, for quiet and introspection—championing the unique civic function that libraries provide today,” said a statement from Snøhetta. “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.”
As visitors enter the building, the bright white veneer of the exterior is replaced by a warm wooden interior, punctuated by a soaring, raw concrete structure and whimsical, colourful furniture. The central atrium features an oculus which bathes the interior in light, while open staircases and walkways enliven the experience of circulating through the building. A variety of rooms accommodate learning of all types: quiet and loud, analog and digital, collaborative and individual, focused and energetic.
No two spaces are the same: slight changes in the architectural vocabulary of each room denote variations in use—a hallmark of Snøhetta’s design approach. On the highest floor is the Great Reading Room, as a jewel box-like space tucked within the library, which provides a space for focused study and inspiration, while at the northernmost point of the building, the living room, a more casual space, overlooks the train line and offers views of downtown and the East Village.
Designed to meet the growing needs of the city, the new library includes 30 meeting spaces for community use, a 350-seat performance hall, a children’s and teen area, a café, and 75,000 square feet of outdoor gathering and seating space, among many features. The building incorporates an array of sustainable technology and is targeting LEED Gold certification.
The final addition to the growing cultural district, the Calgary Central Library will serve as a community anchor, transit hub, and social connector. Positioned immediately adjacent to the Calgary Civic Centre, the library is poised to become a nexus for City’s workforce, while enabling the growth of Library System membership.
Design Architect, Landscape Architect, Interior Architecture, FF&E, Millwork, Signage & Wayfinding: Snøhetta
Executive Architect & Executive Landscape Architect: DIALOG
Size: 240,000 sqft (2/3 larger than original library)
Budget: $245 million CAD
Electrical & Lighting: SMP Engineering
IT/AV: McSquared System Design Group, Inc.
Contractor: Stuart Olson