Calgary Central Library
Craig Edward Dykers, Michelle Jeffrey Delk
Anne-Rachel Schiffmann, Rob Adamson, Brock Schroeder
Sarah Meilleur, CEO Calgary Public Library
Designed as a collection of free-to-use community rooms with multiple connections to surrounding landscapes, the Calgary Central Library was created to prioritize experience and functionality. The project brings together a pair of once-divided neighborhoods and bridges between communities without the need for a front – or back – door. At the Library, community-focused spaces serve residents broadly, directly, and with ease. With books, internet connectivity, reading rooms, community meeting areas, public restrooms, children’s areas, and other conveniences, the Library is designed to function as a community resource and a place where many different types of people can come together and share diverse forms of knowledge production. Organized on a spectrum of “Fun to Serious,” the library program locates the livelier public activities on the lower floors, gradually transitioning to quieter study areas up top. At the street level, a series of multi-purpose rooms line the perimeter of the building, enhancing the connectivity between inside and outside. At the uppermost level of the library is the Great Reading Room, a space conceived as a jewel box tucked within the library that provides a place for focused study and inspiration. Readers enter through a transitional anteroom defined by softened light and acoustics where the vertical wood slats that line the reading room provide both privacy and visibility, creating an interior room without using solid walls. Throughout the building, natural light, warm materials, and visual and physical connections bring the community together.
Although over half of Calgary’s 1.2 million residents use the city’s public library system, its original 1960s-era Central Library building left much to be desired by residents. Undersized and inflexible in its design, the building was replaced with a new 240,000-square-footlity designed by Snøhetta + DIALOG that offers two-thirds more space than the original on a site connecting two adjacent but previously divided neighborhoods. The new building was planned in anticipation of a two-fold increase in library users over the next decade and was created with inspiring public spaces on all sides, thoughtful connections to the outdoors that can be experienced from inside the building, and future programmatic flexibility embedded into its design. Located above an existing light rail right-of-way, the Library exists as a work of social infrastructure that brings two neighborhoods together while allowing crucial transportation connections to continue to function underneath. The heart of the building meets the ground through a cascade of gently terraced slopes and ramps that allow people arriving from every direction to interact with the library, extending the facility’s reach into surrounding blocks. The Library’s location as well as its welcoming connections to surrounding streets allows the site to become the heart of a district where communities, nature, and knowledge meet.
As a work of political collaboration, architectural and landscape design, and municipal ingenuity, the Calgary Central Library has exceeded expectations. The political process that led to its creation required multiple public and private entities to come together under a shared vision for building a new facility serving the community. This spirit of collaboration laid the foundation for the impact the Library has had on its surroundings and is central to its functioning as a civic gathering space enjoyed by millions of people. The library extends the Stephen’s Avenue mall, elongating an existing pedestrian connection linking the Downtown core and East Village while providing a universally accessible route that runs up and over the light rail crossing without requiring an elevated bridge. In addition to providing an outdoor amphitheater and public outdoor seating that allow library programs to spill outdoors, the project also brings improved circulation and visibility, areas for rest, and new plantings to the adjacent Salvation Army Plaza. Additionally, between its opening in 2018 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Calgary Central Library welcomed over 2 million visitors, creating new opportunities for city residents to benefit from the library’s collections and facilities. During the first year of the pandemic, the Library remained in use as a vital source for books and other materials through curbside service before fully reopening in March 2021. In the months since, the Library has embraced its status as a place for post-pandemic physical connection and learning.