The Design Challenge
Built in 1962, the Kitchener Main Branch Public Library was not only showing the effects of everyday wear and tear, it had reached an age at which its major systems and components needed replacement. The architects were asked to preserve and expand the original structure by 30,000-square-feet while making it sustainable, accessible and elegantly robust. The design also had to support the transforming library mandate from “reading and researching” to “meeting, making and active learning”. The librarians wanted a space that was programmatically and technologically flexible.
Working with the existing building presented many design challenges. The existing library had low ceiling heights which were an obstacle in creating larger comfortable gathering area that the librarians desired. The existing dark material palette had to be incorporated into new spaces that needed to feel bright. The required light level for new accessibility standards made it difficult to create a warm atmosphere in a very brightly-lit room.
The renovation of the much-loved Main Branch had to respectfully balance the original building while creating something contemporary.
Key Features and Solutions to the Client’s Brief
An addition and new second storey create space for a variety of open and closed rooms for group and solitary learning. Glass-walled labs expose the making of things. A variety of seating options address myriad ways in which people engage the library. Wi-Fi, computers and power outlets are discrete but plentiful, while books are prominently displayed on shelves with integrated display elements to invite interest.
The existing low ceiling heights were overcome by creating a double-height lobby entrance that draws natural light into the surrounding spaces. Standard and custom fixtures create a warm atmosphere while meeting accessible light level. Lighting and acoustic treatment were integrated into the waffle slab to minimize reduction to the ceiling height. The large, bright Reading Lounge has become the living room of the city. It is a flexible space where a diverse demographic gathers for performances, art lessons and more.
Elegant but durable materials such as stone, walnut, concrete and glass – both complement and update the existing palette. Great attention was paid to using environmentally responsible materials, including FSC wood, slag concrete and reused materials. Artworks enhance the interior, and give additional focus to the purpose of the building, including a mobile of 20,000 falling book leaves animating the entrance lobby. An existing mural was carefully preserved in place while new building insulation was installed behind it.
The library is now an authentic, comfortable and flexible place ready to offer enriching experiences. It is a confident statement of both heritage and contemporary design.
Key Materials/Product Suppliers
Walnut Veneer Wood Doors – Lambton Door Limestone – OSI
Porcelain and Ceramic Tiles – StoneTile
Carpet Tile – Interface
Light Fixtures – Metalumen
Glass Fittings – CR Laurence
Marmoleum, Tackboards – Forbo
Moss & Lam, “Flux”, Atrium Public Art
Melissa Levin, “Untitled”, Children’s Program Room
Jack Bechtel, “Enlightenment”, Reading Room, 1961