Coeur Nomade Library and Cultural Centre

Affleck de la Riva | Coarchitecture


“With poetry as its inspiration, the rhythm of structure and light envelops spaces that enrich and celebrate the history and soul of the community. Housing a diverse and changing program over multiple floors, this sustainable building becomes a place of learning and exploration while promoting the importance of light, health and wellness through its architecture.” – Betsy Williamson, juror 

“You must inhabit the space where you find yourself, with its faces and its landscapes, its particular rhythms, and the ancient dream of transplantation, because man is a tree that walks.” – Dany Laferrière, Haitian-Canadian author  

The Bibliothèque et Centre culturel du Coeur-Nomade is a new-generation library and cultural centre that will showcase the largest collection of Caribbean and Afro-Canadian literature in North America. Referring to a story by celebrated Haitian-Canadian author Dany Laferrière, the name Coeur-Nomade evokes a place of passage where people of diverse backgrounds converge. Laferrière and Quebec poet Pierre Nepveu served as inspirations throughout the design process. 

Montreal North is one of the poorest urban districts in Canada.  More than half of the population identifies with a visible minority and immigrants from Haiti, the Maghreb, and Latin America make up more than 40 per cent of residents. 

Earthy colours, a winter garden, and abundant natural light contribute to making the library a welcoming place for new arrivals and established residents alike. Works by artists from Montreal’s Afromuseum are integrated throughout, including a 6 x 18 metre mural by a Haitian-Canadian artist that graces the entry hall.

Current political discourse in Quebec suffers from a stagnant debate between multiculturalism and nationalism. Pierre Nepveu has imagined a third way—a type of altruistic pluralism that celebrates, as he writes, ‘’the capacity of poetry to support the profound nature of democratic citizenship’’ and that posits the inclusion of difference as the fundamental role of democracy. The design team avidly debated the issue of cultural appropriation: what does it mean for a group of privileged architects to design a cultural centre for a community with considerably less agency?  

Before it congealed into a recognizable aesthetic in the 1960s and 70s, Brutalism had a social mission. Coeur-Nomade revisits both the social and formal dimensions of Brutalism and updates this vision with Pierre Nepveu’s idea of geographic proximity as a generator of identity. Harnessing Brutalism’s basic tenet of collaborating with end-users at an intensely local level, the architects assembled a project team rooted in the literary and artistic community of Montreal North. 

The library’s top floor opens up towards Rivière-des-Prairies. Both the central atrium and winter garden act as solar chimneys, drawing hot air out the top of the building and facilitating natural ventilation.

Facing the city with assurance, the urban shell of Coeur-Nomade protects a flexible, intimate, and brightly lit interior. At once an energy-efficient envelope, an acknowledgement of historic Montreal architecture and a nod to the Brutalist aesthetic, this front elevation is a key element of the building’s image. Evoking the animistic spirituality generated by Dany Laferrière’s weaving together of earth, trees, and mankind, a dynamic colonnade barely touches the sidewalk. Perched on elegant legs, Coeur-Nomade appears ready to travel the world. The library is a tree that walks.

Coeur-Nomade is designed so that the citizens of Montreal North recognize themselves in their library. The welcome begins with an inviting layout that recalls familiar places, such as the lush tropical vegetation of the winter garden, public spaces defined by earthy colours, and abundant natural light. The program is organized by a simple stacking of functions that fills the complete zoning envelope. The public moves between floors following an artistic circuit anchored by a mural in the entry hall, and segueing into thematic sections for digital arts, African sculpture, and Nordicity, as well as display cases for the Caribbean and Afro-Canadian collection.

CLIENT Ville de Montréal | ARCHITECT TEAM Gavin Affleck (FRAIC),  Richard de la Riva,  César Herrera, Mylène Moliner-Roy, Lucas Cormier-Affleck, Diego Diaz Bolaños, William LeBlanc, Florence Dallaire, Cédric Grossi, Giovanna Andaluz | STRUCTURAL/CIVIL ARUP—Steven Cerri, Charles Ormsby | MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL Martin Roy | LANDSCAPE François Courville | ART CONSULTANTS Guy Mushagalusa Chigoho, Benz DeBrosse | AREA 5,120 m2 | BUDGET $25.5 M | STATUS Design Development | ANTICIPATED COMPLETION November 2025