The Waterdown Library and Civic Centre is a 23,500 square foot facility housing space for: a library; a public archive; two flexible recreation rooms; and municipal, community and police services outlets. The new library and civic complex is located at 163 Dundas Street West, in Waterdown, Ontario. The site is located immediately west of the existing town centre, adjacent to a residential neighbourhood to the north, west and east. The town of Waterdown, and the site itself, is located at a significantly high elevation atop the Niagara escarpment. The site drops approximately three metres from its high point towards Dundas Street to the south, and across the street, the topography continues to fall until it reaches Lake Ontario.
The design process began with an acknowledgement of the dramatic topography on site. The design takes advantage of this topography, using the change in elevation to provide expression and access to the different programmatic elements within. To achieve this, the architecture is conceived as a topography, like the geological landform it sits upon.
Movement between programs is seen as fluid, allowing users to flow from one terrain to another along gentle sloping walkways. To achieve this, the building has been organized as a single story, split level facility which exists on six levels. Each of the six levels is arrived at by way of barrier free 1:25 sloping walkways. The organization allows for two entry points, one at the lower street level elevation, and one at a mid-level elevation. The topography is extended into the library which is organized as a series of four terraces. The highest level of the library sits exactly one story above the recreation centre, situated at the lowest elevation. A large reading atrium is situated at the high elevation providing striking views of the escarpment and the lake beyond.
Standard warrantied systems and materials were adapted throughout the project that allowed for experimentation and tailored architecture, while keeping the budget reasonable and removing the risk from the client. Even the most standard elements such as strip lights were treated with a degree of care that adds elegance.
Within the large, open-concept room, care was taken to carefully carve out intimate spaces and maintain a high degree of control over the finishes and furniture to ensure a cohesive interior environment. The Douglas Fir accents in the entry corridor are recycled material from the now-demolished Hamilton Central Library branch. In the children’s area, the ceiling dips down, creating a space with child-friendly technology and activities, dotted with baby Panton chairs. Quiet study rooms in the larger library have load-bearing, laminated walls made entirely of glass, uncannily supporting seemingly heavy ceilings that block the sound while preserving site lines. The special quality of the branch is underscored by a line of glass-enclosed, ethanol fireplaces, adjacent to a grouping of Paulin Orange Slice and Tulip chairs in ember hues.
The new library incorporates automatic check-in and return equipment that has allowed frontline staff to focus on programming and increased customer service. Also, the staff now have access to technology while in the staff workroom, enabling their time to become less constrained. Similar care was taken with integrating sustainable features. The building has a flowering orchard to shade the parking areas, bio-swales in parking lots and green spaces in conjunction with an underground rainwater collection, and low-VOC, recycled and local materials thoughtfully integrated throughout the design.
Sustainable initiatives include: maximized day lighting through the use of large extents of glazed curtain wall; custom ceramic frit patterns and wood fins as solar screening devices; the use of significant amounts of recycled material, including Douglas Fir wall panels and fins that were salvaged from renovations to the Hamilton Central Library; use of locally available materials throughout; use of low VOC materials throughout; daylight harvesting systems; use of a flowering orchard to shade the parking areas; extensive green roofs, and the use of bio-swales in parking lots and green spaces in conjunction with an underground rain water collection system.
The Library’s standard metrics were up in every category as of August 2016 over the same period in 2015. Increases in visitors to the branch (150.1%), circulation of library materials (physical: 47.7%; digital: 33.7%), program attendance (220.3%), computer sessions used (103.9%), wireless use (1885.7%) and new library cards generated all saw huge gains. Library customers love that they have such a beautiful community workspace to call home. Some customers have remarked they were unaware that Waterdown had a branch library before, so the new facility has certainly caught the attention of many new-to-library individuals.
The Waterdown Library and Civic Centre is envisioned as a fragment of the dolomitic limestone upon which it sits. The scheme uses material, form, and the creation of a public topography to heighten the user experience and connect the architecture to its immediate site, and to the greater landscape of the Niagara escarpment.
RDHA is a Toronto-based studio specializing in architecture for the public realm. Originally founded in 1919, the firm has a wide-ranging body of work, encompassing community and recreation facilities, libraries and cultural buildings, operations centres, transit facilities, post-secondary education facilities, secure buildings, corporate and institutional office buildings, and additions and renovations to heritage structures. In the past ten years RDHA has focused on producing intelligent, concept driven architecture of the highest caliber. The firm now feels and acts like an emerging design studio, while our 99-year legacy provides a solid backbone of technical and managerial experience. Consequently, we have re-emerged as one of Canada's most acclaimed design firms, winning more than 40 major provincial, national and international awards - most notably three Governor General's Medals and the 2017 Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) Firm of the Year Award.