May 19, 2016
by Canadian Architect
Stairways playfully criss-cross through the skylit atrium of the library. Different types of gathering places are interwoven in the plan, including a large theatre, study areas, storytelling spaces and a lounge-style reading room on the top floor.
LOCATION Halifax, Nova Scotia
ARCHITECTS Fowler Bauld & Mitchell Ltd. /schmidt hammer lassen architects
PHOTOS Adam Mørk
The Halifax Central Library is the most significant public building completed in the Nova Scotia capital in over a generation, and a new cultural hub for the region. The 15,000-square-metre building was designed through a series of participative public consultations and focus study sessions, which established ambitious architectural, social and environmental goals. Consequently, the library accommodates a variety of programs and sustainable features, including a 300-seat performance space, music studios, a First Nations Circle, rainwater collection and a vegetated green roof. Most important, it provides a free public space in the midst of the city.
Located on a prominent site in downtown Halifax, the library is advantageously situated to create vibrant plazas within the surrounding urban context. The building is composed of three stacked glass volumes that are topped by a monumental glass cantilever. Each volume is rotated to embrace views of the surrounding ocean and the city’s landmarks.
The library is composed of stacked boxes that recall a pile of books.
The Halifax Living Room, the building’s most remarkable space, is located in the signature cantilever on the top level. The backdrop of this glass-encapsulated reading lounge includes dramatic views of the Citadel Hill fortress and the mosaic of buildings and nautical activity that make up the city of Halifax.
The atrium at the heart of the building is a centre of activity. Here, visitors can socialize at the café, enjoy magazines, or marvel at an eye-popping installation of 5,000 miniature paintings. This open space is anchored by a sculptural criss-crossing of stairs and walkways that provide gallery-like circulation from the lobby up to the top cantilever. Daylight cascades from the elongated skylight down to the reading areas that surround the central space.
Daylight, natural materials, and clear sight lines contribute to the library’s sense of spaciousness.
These elements emerge as focal points in the library, as their exuberance contrasts with the restrained material palette and rigourous design resolution that prevail throughout the building.
The Halifax Central Library is a sustainable building. Floor-to-ceiling glass panels on the north and south façades admit diffuse daylight into reading spaces and facilitate passive solar heating benefits for the building. Service rooms, washrooms and elevators, located on the east and west perimeters of the building, are clad in highly insulated wall sections to minimize glare in reading areas and to reduce unwanted solar heat gain. The double-glazed windows achieve exceptional thermal resistance and the frit patterns of falling leaves on the glass façade act as both a sun shading solution and a poetic reference to the gardens that were once located on the site.
The Halifax Central library opened in December 2014 to a public that has truly taken ownership of the space. It boasted two million visitors in its first year—nearly three times what was anticipated. Currently targeting LEED Gold certification, the project was also shortlisted for World Building of the Year in the Civic and Community category.
:: Jury :: This outstanding new civic building is a community gathering place that responds to the diversity of its users, accommodating many more activities than the traditional library. This 21st century facility is topped by the Halifax Living Room: an inviting, light and playful public space with views across Halifax as far as the harbour. Other spaces provide for learning, reading, exercising, studying, hanging out and playing. The reception area’s generous atrium with its beautiful stairway is the hub connecting the functions and users. The jury commends the process of early user engagement that led to the design—the public’s embrace of the building is a testament to its value.
Client Halifax Regional Municipality/Halifax Public Libraries | Architect Team Schmidt Hammer Lassen—Morten Schmidt, Chris Hardie, Mette Wienberg, Stuart Hill, Jessica Mentz, Lars Vejen. Fowler Bauld & Mitchell—George Cotaras, Wayne Duncan, Susan Fitzgerald, Mark Gammon, D’Arcy Dennehy, Stacey MacInnis, Sheena Moore, Greg Fry, Harvey Freeman, Maureen Aubut, Megan Baker. | Structural SNC-Lavalin with Ove Arup (concept design) | Mechanical/Electrical CBCL Limited with Ove Arup (concept design) | Civil SNC-Lavalin | Landscape Gordon Ratcliffe Landscape Architect | Interiors Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects and Fowler Bauld & Mitchell Ltd. | Public Consultation Myrgan Inc. | Sustainability Solterre Design | Acoustics Swallow Acoustic Consultants Ltd. | Building Code RJ Bartlett Engineering Ltd. | Curtain Wall BVDA Façade Engineering Ltd. | Wind & Snow Environmental Theakston Environmental Consulting Engineers | Theatre Design Theatre Consulting Group Ltd. | Third-Party Commissioning FC O’Neill Scriven & Assoc. Ltd. | Project Manager Halifax Regional Municipality | Construction Manager EllisDon Corporation | Area 14,996 m2 | Budget $57.6 M | Completion November 2014