IMAGINING THE LIBRARY OF THE FUTURE
The Stanley A. Milner Library Renewal in Edmonton, Canada reimagines Edmonton Public Library’s (EPL) existing central branch as an innovative, sustainable and welcoming civic hub. In recent years, library services have undergone significant transformations globally; EPL has been internationally recognized at the forefront of this process of re-thinking libraries’ role in society. The architecture of the renewal translates EPL’s vision of the library as a “gathering place for people and ideas, enabling a lifetime of learning, engagement and possibility for every Edmontonian” into an inclusive, multi-faceted hub. It creates an enriched and revitalized environment that inspires thought, creativity and research in all forms, simultaneously expanding its role as a welcoming “third space” for reading, relaxation and interaction.
BACKGROUND & GOALS
The Milner library originally opened in 1967 as Edmonton’s Centennial Library, anchoring the city’s main civic square. In 1999, the library was expanded with a 1000m2 addition that reduced the public space in front of the building to a narrow strip of sidewalk. Although the facility was well-loved by the community, many aspects of the building had reached the end of their life-cycles; its energy efficiency was far from current standards; and its dark and inward-looking spaces no longer reflected or effectively supported a modern library service model and EPL’s meaningful engagement with the community.
The fundamental goals of the project were to bring the building’s energy and sustainable performance up to contemporary standards while better reflecting and supporting EPL’s civic role and leadership in library services innovation.
TECHNICAL & EXPERIENTIAL TRANSFORMATION
The design team used the key technical goals of the project – including replacement of the building’s deteriorating envelope, seismic upgrades, selective mechanical systems upgrades, and a comprehensive interior renovation – as an opportunity to establish a dynamic outward-looking form, improved connections to public spaces and transit, and reimagined interior spatial organization marked by dramatic physical and visual interconnection.
The desire to create a multi-storey orientation space that would welcome the community into the building led to the notion of stretching the skin off of the original orthogonal building toward the new entrance. A steel structure was suspended from the original concrete volume such that it hovers above the new entry. The shaping of the new building skin and fenestration dramatizes the concept of stretching the library out to the community.
The dynamic form was conceived to relate directly to its urban context, literally stretching out and opening up toward nearby landmarks. The building’s skin in turn shapes a network of intuitive circulation paths and inspiring new spaces working together to orchestrate a dynamic user experience. Key moments of transparency, coloured skylights, glazing panels and signage, combined with a new plaza with clear views into the library’s programming, invite the public into the library. Whereas the old building felt cut-off from the city, the new library is a welcoming portal that blurs the lines between exterior and interior public space.
The new zinc standing seam cladding is fully thermally broken and highly insulated. In a cold climate, such as Edmonton’s, a high-performance building envelope is integral to achieving energy efficiency and a sustainable outcome, especially in a renewal context in which some existing mechanical systems were required to remain in service. Azengar zinc, an engraved type of zinc finish that is more matte and lighter in colour than any other zinc on the market, was used to optimize solar reflectivity and mitigate heat island effect, helping achieve the project’s LEED target.
ACTIVELY SUPPORTING AN ENRICHED PROGRAM
By creating purpose-built spaces for an expanded diversity of services, the Stanley A. Milner Library is able to strengthen its connection with the community, better serve its broad demographic, and extend the definition of “community” to include the world beyond. The appeal of the re-imagined library is broad, creating an inclusive and welcoming space where there is almost literally something for everyone.
Visitors now encounter a number of new indoor civic spaces before entering the library proper, including large lounge, galleria spaces and café spaces, which welcome the community into the facility and are accessible to the public even when the library itself is closed. A multi-storey, digital display wall invites the public to uncover information interactively. The spiritual heart of the building is the PÎYÊSÎW WÂSKÂHIKAN (Thunderbird House), an Indigenous circular gathering space designed in consultation with the local Cree community, which offers after-hours availability.
Beyond the library welcome desk patrons will find: a multi-functional children’s area; community meeting spaces; a vast array of social services; maker spaces including 3-D printing and laser cutting as well as spaces for sewing and cooking and the creation of text and music; a fully-equipped gaming space; a theatre; book and periodical collections; and various spaces to read, study or simply enjoy time in the heart of the city.
A key architectural challenge was to connect this complex and vast array of activities to the community. To this end, the building’s six storey atrium is brought to the fore, physically engaging and externalizing the re-imagined library with the community, rather than internalizing it with a typical inward-facing atrium scheme. The atrium makes visible a route that creates a natural, intuitive flow to all building activities – a connector engaging both the indoor and outdoor public realms.
Teeple Architects shapes buildings through an open, collaborative process rooted in curiosity and pragmatic optimism. Founded in 1989 in Toronto, Canada, the firm has built a reputation for design leadership through a broad range of acclaimed institutional, commercial and residential projects. Our practice integrates sustainability and technical expertise with formal exploration to create buildings that embody the dynamism of the communities they serve. Drawing on the collective expertise of a diverse and talented team of design professionals, we work with discipline and imagination to shape ideas into places that bring aspirations to life. We have received some of architecture’s most esteemed national and international awards including six Governor General’s Medals for Architecture (Canada’s highest architectural honour), two AIA awards, a Holcim Award for sustainable innovation, and four Innovation in LEED® Awards, and have been recognized by The Plan Awards three times
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