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Web Exclusive: The Vaughan Civic Centre Resource Library

A new library by ZAS Architects explores the evolving role of the library in the digital age.

October 27, 2016
by Canadian Architect

Photo by doublespace photography

Photo by doublespace photography

Resulting from an extensive visioning process exploring the evolving role of the library in the digital age, The Vaughan Civic Centre Resource Library by ZAS Architects is a visionary maker-space dedicated to community learning, gathering, creating and celebrating.

Engaging new users in record numbers since its opening, the transformative community centrepiece aims to empower local residents of all ages and demographics, inviting an exploration of learning in the library with the tools and technology of the 21st century.

“This is a very important facility for the City of Vaughan,” says Paul Stevens, Principal in Charge, ZAS Architects. “The Civic Centre Campus has a fairly long history in terms of its evolution, transforming from a modest seventies campus into something far more ambitious later on. Using this as a starting point, we saw the library as an opportunity to evolve the major centre of government further, based on what is happening in the City of Vaughan itself.”

Photo by doublespace photography

Photo by doublespace photography

Capturing the attention and imagination of the residents of Vaughan, the library’s ethereal façade and shifting translucent form beacon the community, making a clear statement that this is a meeting place created for the future of the city. From the exterior, the digital nature of the library becomes instantly clear.

“The exterior has this whimsical, unconventional look to it, almost like its bursting at the seams,” says Stevens. “This complex geometry was a direct result of our team using fairly ambitious 3D modelling software. We developed the façade’s geometries and made them build-able, using digital tools to generate a form that could be physically achieved in construction.”

Adjacent to City Hall, the exterior’s geometric form negotiates a shift in scale between City Hall’s Clock tower and the historic Sarah Noble/ Beaverbrook House, signalling the beginning of the larger Vaughan Civic Centre Campus. The playful form and roofline are inspired by the curved elements of a roller coaster track at nearby Canada’s Wonderland theme park.

“One of our biggest challenges was to design a library that would assert itself in the foreground of the surrounding neighbourhood and complement the existing government building next door,” says Stevens. “KPMB developed a formal, stoic government structure on the site some years ago, and we were concerned that our library would pale in comparison. We had to establish a design that would attract the community while fitting into the modern vocabulary of the region.”

The result is a structure that draws on the surrounding neighbourhood while remaining progressive and unique.

Photo by doublespace photography

Photo by doublespace photography

The complex geometry of pattern-shifting glass panels on the exterior prepare the visitor to experience the overlap of ideas of groups who gather inside. Colourful furniture and glass animate a fluid series of bright spaces, balancing open meeting areas with places for private study.

“The colourful interior is a complete contradiction to the monochromatic look on the exterior,” says Stevens. “While the exterior façade is intended to help viewers focus on the shape, form and pattern of the building, the interior’s colourful furnishings help to establish distinct zones within a large open floor plan.”

In addition to the colourful decor, dynamic natural lighting acts as a guide throughout the space, directing visitors as they explore the collection. Computer modelling and 3D printers, a media suite, sound recording studio, video studio and green screen create hands-on opportunities to learn, discover curiosities and hone craft. Indicative of a library’s ‘function in –flux’, highly flexible, movable book collection stacks also offer flexibility for librarians and visitors to use the space in multiple ways, as the needs of the community evolve daily or annually.

Photo by doublespace photography

Photo by doublespace photography

Collaboration spaces, meeting rooms, a ‘teen-only’ lounge, public-access computers, a large study hall, and an extensive children’s activity area form a circle around a central courtyard, representing a circle of community. Integration of the central courtyard allowed for the creation of a building with fewer walls, resulting in more flexible space.

“Information technology should be accessible everywhere, not only in the library itself,” says Stevens. “One of the things that we did to address this was create a courtyard in the middle of the building. You can take your laptop out here and sit on a lounge chair in the shade, or read a book on a beautiful day. The courtyard allows visitors to enjoy the entirety of the library, both inside and out.”

Providing extensive daylight and views of nature from within the library, the courtyard features fixed and flexible seating areas and plantings consistent with the building’s surrounding natively planted landscape. A single, red maple represents the “tree of knowledge” and a notional connection to the community of Maple that is one of six that make up the City of Vaughan.

Photo by doublespace photography

Photo by doublespace photography

The central, conceptual plan of the library is fundamentally based on the idea of communities coming together. Multi-generational and diverse, each space within the library has been designed to foster learning for wide-ranging user groups. Students from primary school to post-secondary, new Canadian residents, teens, toddlers and parents have all been given spaces to learn and connect with one another.

Ultimately, the library represents an opportunity for the City of Vaughan to embrace the digital age. “It’s always been important for libraries to adapt,” says Stevens. “Communities want access to information technology, and libraries are one of the few public spaces that provide access to this. It’s important for libraries to recognize trends, take risks, and make revisions in their designs.”