Revitalized York Woods Library and Theatre opens


York Woods Library exterior (Photo by Lisa Logan Photography, courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects)

The revamped York Woods Library and Theatre is a response to the socio-economic needs of the Jane Finch community in Toronto, extending beyond the conventional library lending model. Designed by Diamond Schmitt, this revitalized facility plays a crucial role in the neighborhood by providing essential social and cultural infrastructure to an underserved part of the city. The thoughtful renovation and expansion retain the original Brutalist library and brick-and-mortar theater buildings while transforming the space into a connected and welcoming Community Hub.

“Our vision for the revitalized York Woods Library was to create a sense of place. It is designed as a flexible Community Hub where residents of the Jane and Finch neighbourhood feel welcome, not just to drop by and borrow a book, but to stay for a while and engage with the new open, light-filled spaces and programs the library has to offer,” said Gary McCluskie, principal, Diamond Schmitt.

York Woods Library interior (Photo courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects)

Initially designed by Thomas Ibronyi Architect, the York Woods Library and Theatre has undergone several renovations and developments since its establishment in 1970. Most recently, in 2010, the Community Arts Hub and programming room were added to cater to changing demographic needs.

Despite architectural and programmatic differences, the library has grown into a significant community center over the years. It serves as a primary gathering spot for youth after school, providing a safe space for socializing, studying, and participating in support programs.

The transformation by Diamond Schmitt welcomes patrons through a new 2,000-square-foot double-height glass entrance pavilion topped by a prismatic timber roof. This new entrance is approached through a linear pathway and sensitive landscaping, leading visitors to a welcoming hall and visitor’s desk. The design enhances user flow and offers a light-filled multi-purpose space for public gatherings and events, giving passersby a glimpse of the activities inside.

The core of the renovation is the two-story library. The original layout with siloed floors and limited vertical circulation is replaced by a two-story transparent interconnected atrium and amphitheater staircase, creating a sense of place and improving physical circulation and connectivity. This gesture enhances safety, provides seating and gathering spaces, and fosters a more inclusive environment.

York Woods Library interior addition (Photo courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects)

In response to the community’s need for safe public spaces and infrastructure, the revitalized York Woods Library offers multiple flexible use zones and transparent program areas. The ground floor houses a Digital Innovation Hub, Teaching Lab, Musical Instrument Lending Library, KidsStop, and Children’s Middle Years Discovery Zone, easily accessible to kids and youth. The second floor is divided into different types of work and collaboration spaces, including study rooms, an E-learning Centre, and a Youth Hub.

The interior spaces preserve the original exposed poured concrete beams and pre-cast double-tee concrete slabs of the Brutalist structure but have been softened with wood and vibrant acoustic panels, adding warmth and animating the concrete interiors. The furniture pieces feature organic material palettes and forms, and strategic glazing overlooks the atrium and library, providing open sightlines and transparency.

The York Woods Library and Theatre is one of only two Toronto Public Libraries in the city with a fully-equipped performing arts theatre, supporting various educational and community activities. The renewal includes the renovation and modernization of the theater interiors, creating flexible lobby and entrance areas for pre- and post-event functions, further enhancing the facility’s cultural offerings.

Located in a rapidly evolving area of the city with associated urban development and mass transit, the revitalized and expanded York Woods Library and Theatre is designed to cater to the residents of Jane and Finch. It offers a place where children, youth, and adults can engage in various programs, receive educational support, and thrive socially and creatively.

“One of the design intentions was to enhance the library and theatre’s connections with the community. We’ve designed an entrance addition that establishes a welcoming new street presence. Its warmth and transparency invites patrons in, and offers a moment of respite for the community and those coming to use the library’s new facilities,” said Matthew Tsui, senior associate, Diamond Schmitt.