+VG Architects Renovates the Peterborough Public Library

The renovation and addition to the main branch of the Peterborough Public Library exemplifies an important trend in urban living, explains Peter Berton of +VG Architects, Partner-in-Charge of the project. “It’s a very big thing. More than just a library with books and internet, this is a community hub.”

Exterior views of the library and its new flanking parkette, Peterborough Library Commons. The focal point is Your Story, a 20-feet-tall Corten-steel sculpture evoking a book cover twisting in the wind by Toronto architect Patrick Li, whose design was chosen in a City Public Art Program public competition over 20 other submissions. The consultant team for the library designed the parkette as a separate construction project.

Curved LED-light slots in the ceiling of the entry lobby act as a wayfinding device and design motif that recurs throughout the library.

The original facility, by Moriyama & Teshima Architects, opened in 1978 on Aylmer Street, west of the city centre, and had a protective, enclosed appearance with its masonry wall punctuated by narrow strip windows.

“We proposed to add on to the front and redo the entire facade of the building, which was predominantly solid brick and not very engaging with the street,” says Mr. Berton. “Now the front brings in more daylight and makes a connection with the downtown. Our design is all about opening up to the community and revealing the culture of the building so that people can see what’s there and feel like going in. That’s the big story here.”

The 4,181 square metre (45,000 square feet) project has received rave reviews from residents in the Central Ontario city of 85,000, 125 kilometres (78 miles) northeast of Toronto:

“My first reaction was ‘Wow’ — the view, the brightness, the windows, the openness, they all surpassed my expectations,” said Ken Doherty, the city’s Community Services Director, at the official opening.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to spend $12 million of public money,” said Mayor Daryl Bennett at the official opening. “Libraries of the past have been called dinosaurs and, in some cases, that’s a true statement. This is not of that era whatsoever. We have built for the future. This renovation has reinvigorated not only this space but, in many ways, our entire downtown.”

Indeed, the area, near the bus station, was ready for revitalization however, the library renovation is spurring development and gentrification. A new flanking parkette, Peterborough Library Commons, creates a sense of place.

+VG gave the building a friendlier, more inviting street presence by peeling off the original, narrow-windowed façade and replacing it with an open, transparent curtainwall; providing an accessible entrance; and adding flexible community spaces. New amenities include more public computers, a laptop café, casual seating areas, study areas and seminar rooms.

The revamped library enables the long curving clerestory window feature to play a larger role in flooding the interior with indirect lighting. The exterior stairs lead to a compressed lobby entrance that opens to the reception desk and main collection area. For first-time visitors, the sudden transition into the expansive double-height space triggers an involuntary frisson of delight.

A grand staircase connects to the lower level and its community space, auditorium, administration offices and storage and processing areas. “We exposed the existing roof structure to achieve more height over that stairwell,” says Project Architect Nicole Crabtree.

Another important opening-up move are the new bay windows in back to create connectivity to Bethune Street, part of the City’s downtown masterplan for a linear urban street. “It used to be a blank wall,” Mr. Berton says. “Better sight lines are important for a feeling of safety.”

They provide passive security by acting as “eyes on the street” as Toronto urban theorist Jane Jacobs wrote in her 1961 classic book The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

The library opened under budget in 2018; the parkette opened in 2019. The principal consultants were: Electrical: Kirkland Engineering Ltd | Furniture and signage: Intercede Design | General contractor: Buttcon Limited | Landscape: Daniel J. O’Brien & Associates Limited | Mechanical: OTS Engineering | Structural/civil: DM Wills Associates Ltd.