A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[URBAN NOTE] Alex Bozikovic on the library as a centrepiece of Canadian architecture

The Globe and Mail‘s Alex Bozikovic reports on the central place that the library has taken in Canaidan architecture, as a locus for experimentation. As someone who likes the Toronto Reference Library and loves the newly-encountered Bibliothèque nationale in Montréal, this article makes perfect sense.

Imagine a slab: a low box clad in limestone and glass. Then place it on the crest of a hill and split it down the middle, one piece pressed down into the earth and the other slanting up to the sky. This is the three-dimensional drama that animates the new Waterdown Library and Civic Centre in Hamilton.

Inside, more twists. Walk in the door, and you can wind your way to the top of the hill: climbing a series of ramps lined with generous windows and slats of Douglas fir, past green roofs and through six levels of a library filled with colour and dashed with sunlight on all sides. At the top, the payoff: long views from the height of the Niagara Escarpment, taking your eye beyond the suburban road to the broad topography that defines this place, the arcing shore of an ancient sea.

The latest in a string of excellent public buildings from its architects, RDHA, the building is fresh proof that libraries are the locus of creative architecture in Canada. Waterdown brings together an elegant metaphor and accessibility with a sense of place – and shows how excellent art can emerge from constraints.

Plus you can find books here, or pay your taxes. The 23,500-square-foot facility combines the library branch with a seniors’ recreation centre, and smaller functions including an archive and a municipal customer-service office. These are folded neatly into those two boxes: library above, and other functions below.

[. . .]

Librarians – at least Hamilton’s – understand metaphor, and the architects won approval for the complex scheme. The key was linking the building’s two entrances, and the six levels within the library itself, with a series of low ramps, at a 1:20 slope. This makes “a kind of public landscape,” Sharp explains, “that you ascend to reach the different public programs at different levels.”

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Written by Randy McDonald

January 16, 2017 at 9:00 pm

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