Bloor Gladstone Library

PROJECT Bloor Gladstone Library, Toronto, Ontario
ARCHITECTS RDH Architects in association with Shoalts and Zaback Architects Ltd.
PHOTOS Tom Arban

The Bloor Gladstone Library is a renovation and addition to a listed heritage building designed by Chapman and McGiffen Architects in 1912. The original U-shaped plan features a central hall flanked by two symmetrical reading rooms. The existing masonry building sits on a podium, elevating the main level approximately six feet above sidewalk grade and creating a formal appearance of mass and solidity, a temple dedicated to the protection of the written word.

The architects were commissioned to design for an additional 12,000 square feet, bringing the collection and facilities to a level consistent with a district library. The final design included significant renovations to the existing building and the construction of an addition. 

In an attempt to honour the heritage building, the main entry remains in its original location. In order to achieve this in a barrier-free manner, an exterior 1970s concrete stair and ramp were demolished and the central hall floor slab was dropped to the lowest level. As a result, the public now enters the building at the same location, at a lower-level plaza two feet below sidewalk grade. To access this plaza, one can either descend four steps or walk along one of two barrier-free sloped walkways to the east and west of the main entry.

The new addition is conceived as having two fundamental elements: a raised glass pavilion and a stone base. The limestone base is an extension of the existing terra cotta podium. This element facilitates a strong compositional connection to the heritage structure and helps to organize and control programmatic elements on site. The addition is a transparent and contemporary counterpoint to the existing heritage structure: a pavilion in constant dialogue with its surroundings, a place to read, to view the city, and to be seen involved in the programs offered within.

A glazed reveal visually separates the two buildings where old and new structures meet. This break allows both buildings to be expressed as three-dimensional volumes. The five large window bays of the existing façade have been repeated in the new addition as five vertical divisions of curtain wall. The horizontal lines of existing decorative masonry courses have been stretched across and incorporated into the façade composition of the addition. These regulating lines can be seen in the horizontal division of curtain wall, the use of alternating bands of clear and patterned glass, and the horizontal mortar joints of the new stone podium.

Sustainable initiatives include green roof systems, a reduction in city stormwater demand, permeable paving along exit paths, significant planting of shrubs, grasses, 19 new trees, and large extents of energy- efficient glazing for an abundance of natural light throughout.

This project transforms a dilapidated and dysfunctional heritage library into a functioning, interactive contemporary institution. The level of finish, detail and design resolution elevates the community library to a level commensurate with other significant cultural institutions, a level which illustrates the fundamental importance of access to information in the world’s largest library system, the Toronto Public Library. 

Jury This renovation and expansion of a distinctive historical library stands out for being both creative and respectful. The design reimagines the entranceway and body of the original structure, adds a minimal glass addition, and creates an intimate courtyard in the process. CA

Client Toronto Public Library | Architect Team RDH Architects–Tyler Sharp, Bob Goyeche, Graham Gavine, Sanjoy Pal, Scott Wilson. Shoalts and Zaback Architects Inc.–Gerry Shoalts, Eric Riddell, Michael Malleson. | Structural Halsall Associates Ltd. | Mechanical/Electrical Jain Associates Ltd. | CIVIL Valdor Engineering Inc. | Heritage ERA Architects Inc. | Landscape NAK Design Group | Contractor Pre-Eng Contracting Ltd. | Area 21,000 ft2 | Budget $7.5 M | Completion June 2009