The City of Ottawa, Ottawa Public Library (OPL) and Library and Archives Canada unveiled the long-awaited design for the $192.9-million joint facility on LeBreton Flats.
JON WILLING Ottawa Citizen
The City of Ottawa, Ottawa Public Library (OPL) and Library and Archives Canada on Thursday unveiled the long-awaited design for the $192.9-million joint facility on LeBreton Flats after spending the past year gathering ideas from the public to use in the final iteration.
“My dream has become a reality,” OPL chief executive officer Danielle McDonald said.
“For me, it’s really heartfelt. It’s kind of overwhelming, but I’m so, so pleased with where we have arrived.”
McDonald acknowledged there was pressure to have a great design at a time when there seems to be intense focus on library projects in Canada. Calgary, Edmonton and Halifax have opened new flagship libraries in recent years to varying reviews.
“We wanted excellence. There’s no question about it. We wanted that when we picked the architect. That was clear. That was our goal, and I don’t think we’ve given up on that,” McDonald said.
“I think that’s because we believe in the power of libraries. The power of libraries to generate economic development in the community, to help shape the community, and I think people around the world expect more from their libraries, not only in what services they provide, but how they look. They want nice, beautiful, gorgeous spaces.”
The OPL and Library and Archives Canada are partnering to build the 216,000-square-foot facility at 555 Albert St., just west of Bronson Avenue. The municipal library is taking up about 61 per cent of the facility’s space.
Diamond Schmitt Architects and KWC Architects teamed up on the design, which was revealed during an event at the Ottawa Art Gallery.
The architects spent much of 2019 to collect ideas from the public. The public consultation program has been a cornerstone of the project because of the importance a central library plays for the municipality. Plus, it will be built at a high-profile location that could drive future development on LeBreton Flats.
“One thing I don’t like is politicians getting in and mucking around on things,” said Coun. Tim Tierney, chair of the OPL board of trustees. “This is 100 per cent designed by the people. At the end of the day, it’s their building.”
Tierney said there have been design iterations behind the scenes that have been tweaked to produce the final concept revealed Thursday.
An overwhelming suggestion from the public was to mirror elements of the natural environment in the design of the library, so the architects did just that.
The roofline is a nod to the rolling Ottawa River just to the north. Ontario limestone is part of the exterior, evoking the nearby escarpment. The expansive windows (which will have fritted glass to prevent bird collisions) allow one-of-a-kind vistas of the surrounding landscape. The facility will have a green roof.
Inside the building, the ceilings are covered in light-coloured wood that’s expected to be sourced locally. In the drawings, the centre cavity of the building is an airy, bright space that will act as a town hall. There’s a rooftop café.
Leslie Weir, the librarian and archivist at Library and Archives Canada, said the project team also drew inspiration from other libraries around the world.
“But we wanted something that was for Ottawa,” Weir said. “It doesn’t need to be what would do for Calgary or for Halifax or for Helsinki. It’s what’s going to serve our community here in Ottawa and I think the design we’ve come up with really does capture Ottawa.”
Weir predicted the super library will become an anchor and community centre for the western portion of downtown in the same way Ottawa City Hall might be for the eastern portion.
“I think we’re especially thrilled because we know that this building was the result of our collaboration and our consultation with the citizens of Ottawa and it was such an iterative process where we consulted, we listened and we integrated the people’s ideas,” Weir said.
Weir said the federal institution’s main building on Wellington Street, which has about 37,000 visitors annually, isn’t able to connect Canadian heritage to Canadians in a way the new facility will.
“With this collaboration, we’re going to see about 1.7 million people coming into this building annually,” Weir said.
“We’re really keen on bringing Canadian heritage to a much larger population.”
Library and Archives Canada and OPL will have their own areas in the building but share some spaces. For example, the two organizations are combining resources on genealogy, creating what they believe is the top genealogical research site in Canada.
The rest of 2020 will be used to finalize the drawings before a construction contract competition begins in early 2021. The facility is scheduled to open near the end of 2024.
McDonald and Weir defended building a new central library and archives facility in an increasingly connected world where digital information is king.
“For me, libraries are essential. I always believe a learned society is a great one, but I think libraries are so much more than just what people traditionally think about them,” McDonald said.
“This building just gives you all that.”