Posted by: bluesyemre | December 30, 2018

Super #library architects trying to balance civic focus with national prominence


Donald Schmitt is principal architect at Diamond Schmitt Architects.

Politicians and designers brought up the recording studio at the new Halifax library so many times during a recent meet-the-architects event for the Ottawa super library project, it might be a major bummer if the new facility on LeBreton Flats doesn’t have a killer jam space.

They harped on the studio for one main reason: to give the public a heads-up that this $192.9-million facility, a joint project between the City of Ottawa and Library and Archives Canada, will be more than just a depot for books and old stamps.

Diamond Schmitt Architects and KWC Architects won a competition to design the building on city-owned land at 555 Albert St., just west of Bronson Avenue. After finalizing the contract, the city introduced the architects at the National Arts Centre on Dec. 19, using the Parliament Buildings as a backdrop.

The architects are tasked with designing a building that has national importance, since it will be home to a federal institution, but also one that reflects a local significance as the municipality’s flagship library. When the new building is done in late 2024, the Ottawa Public Library will close its main library on Metcalfe Street and truck the collection west to the Flats.

Expect a bright and airy building with less attention on book stacks and more focus on gathering spots, reading nooks and creative labs. It might even be a bit noisy compared to today’s library standards.

What the city is about to build might more resemble a recreation centre, but not necessarily for sports.

Since the opening is still six years away, it might be hard to predict what will be in vogue when architects begin drawing the interior and outdoor spaces of the building.

Will the maker movement still be chic? Will even more people be using tablets to read? Will macramé make another comeback?

Donald Schmitt, a principal at Diamond Schmitt, predicted the design will consider a “civic dimension with a national perspective,” giving architects the challenge of creating an internationally recognized, landmark building with intimate spaces.

“We want a community facility that really accommodates a scale of 2,000, of 200, of 20 and of two … as a comfortable place for all groups in the community,” Schmitt said. “The design of the program will be unusual in that it includes museum-quality exhibition spaces, diverse library spaces, music studios, maker spaces, all of those elements, and as well accessible service points for Library and Archives Canada.”

Gary McCluskie, also a principal at Diamond Schmitt, said the architects are watching closely how other libraries have included studios for video production, music and sewing. Even if the library is tricked out with the latest technology, there will still be places for students to study and for families to enjoy story time, he said.

“These are the things we value in libraries and archives and it is a respect for the facility of the past and an optimism for the facility of the future,” McCluskie said.

The design team is about to embark on a significant consultation campaign before sketching out the spaces.

Schmitt emphasized that the architects will pore over feedback provided during the consultation process, which is expected to begin early in 2019. He said the design team wants to meet as many people as possible, through sessions in the morning, afternoon, and evening, and during pop-up consultations at library branches across Ottawa.

“Our process is collaborative because we know from experience that our best projects are the result of a collaborative process, a conversation, a synthesis of program and a resolution of functional need,” Schmitt said.

While the chosen library property on LeBreton Flats has some critics, like Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, who’s concerned it’s too far away from an LRT station and the downtown core, the architects seem fired up about a site that’s between the downtown and an emerging part of the city, plus near the Parliamentary precinct. They like that the Ottawa River is just to the north and that an aqueduct shoots behind the library site, providing the potential to highlight the natural environment on LeBreton Flats through building design.

Schmitt characterized Pimisi Station as “almost at the front door of the library” in his praise for the location, although there are other parcels of land zoned for tall buildings that separate the LRT station from the library site along Albert Street.

“In our view, the site is extraordinary, almost heroic, and it will be celebrated in our design” Schmitt said.

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