A fixture of Rexdale, Albion Library sits within a mix of low-rise buildings along a busy four-lane road, where it has played a vital role for many decades. Physically, it buffers a residential neighbourhood from a road and mall to the north. Programmatically, it offers patrons a wide range of services that go beyond lending—including cultural orientation, social integration, employment skills, and access to technology and knowledge. During consultations for a new library to take the existing one’s place, community members described the library as the “Switzerland” of a troubled urban realm.
While residents recognized that the existing building was no longer fit for its purpose, they were concerned about the closure that would be required to undertake a renovation. In response, the project team proposed to build a new library on the adjacent parking lot, allowing the existing building to remain open over the two years required for construction. Once the new library is complete, the existing building will be demolished and replaced with a landscaped parking lot that will double as a public space and market square.
The design concept for the new building reflects the library’s dual role as a refuge and a resource. In plan, the multi-room building is a pure square punctuated by three courtyards and four interior pavilions. Its perimeter is marked by a polychrome terracotta tile screen, creating a richly textured mass. The screen is lifted at its corners, creating an entry forecourt for the library and articulating key program areas, including an urban living room and lounges for teens and children. The lifted corners also give a sloping form to the green roof, bringing light and water to the courtyard gardens.
Internally, the courtyards and pavilion-like elements divide the square plan into a series of open zones beneath a sloping timber roof. Careful composition of positive and negative space creates a rich and varied plan that accommodates open, cellular and private areas, while ensuring ease of access and supervision throughout.
The trio of courtyards bring nature and sunlight deep into all parts of the library. They provide protected outdoor areas and allow for peaceful contemplation, offering a respite from the busy arterial context of Albion Road, while respecting the privacy of adjacent residences. Each garden has a variety of planting and surface treatments, inspiring use and providing visual interest throughout the year.
The new parking lot is designed as a multifunctional public space
capable of accommodating a public market and wide variety of cultural events. The relationship between building and plaza extends the project’s exploration of positive and negative composition to encompass the site as a whole.
MF: I appreciated the compactness of the plan—which is very efficient with regard to minimizing the quantity of envelope—and the way the designers decided to bring light in at the centre.
PH: The fenestration moves around the perimeter of the building, dropping down and getting closer to the ground in places to create intimate spaces. This gives a sense of scale to a large building. The coloured baguettes also lend a more friendly, softer nature to the library.
JH: This project organized its interior program very clearly, and then extended this logic to spill out and deal with the surrounding spaces on the site. The strategy of a parking area that doubles as a market suggests all kinds of potential.