Ville Saint-Laurent Library

ARCHITECTS Cardinal Hardy | Labont Marcil | Eric Pelletier architectes, architectes en consortium
LOCATION Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec

It is rare to witness social and cultural environments as diverse as in the borough of Saint-Laurent, and the wealth of cultures introduced by newcomers enriches the community. The library must therefore support a wide range of activities where everyone, no matter where they are from, can learn more about themselves and each other. Consequently, the architecture of such a library should encourage interaction and a feeling of belonging, promote exploration and discovery, and provide places to meet and exchange ideas.

The first gesture, on an urban scale, is the creation of a large linear park, a band of vegetation that runs parallel to the library, providing a segue from the existing buildings to Boulevard Thimens and creating a strong, cohesive space. This linear threshold of a wide, planted plaza is dotted with a number of variably sized hard surface areas that form public and cultural spaces. A linear series of planting beds reinforces the visual aspect of the boulevard and immediately introduces the library building, which then extends towards the city.

The second gesture is the formation of a landscaped “strip” that crosses the city to the forest, which is raised above ground to form a direct outdoor link between the city and the park. Here, the library acts as an important interface between these two components. A true connection between the city and nature is established, offering passersby a visual opening towards the park.

In this project, architecture is landscape and landscape is architecture. The architecture changes shape, unfolds, spreads out and rises up, reducing the boundaries between the built space and the site. There are several means of access to the building–a simple footpath for contemplation along the way, a paved square, a suspended walkway through the trees, or an enclosed space at the heart of the project. All of these mechanisms encourage interaction and discovery. These different paths weave the city and park together, and break down the boundaries between the built form and the site. The library functions as a living environment rather than merely as a public building.

The great hall is like an immense forecourt–a space that is at once spectacular and intimate. Located at the heart of the building, it is similar to a Roman piazza, a place for events, shows and temporary exhibitions, and a place for gathering and interaction. Here, the great hall offers more than one perspective. The vast space beneath the skylight is a spectacle of extraordinary scale, offering a vertical connection to the landscape.

The roof is an imposing wooden shell that floats above the library, stretching over the spaces in a way that seems to change the geometry, controlling the way the light penetrates the building and the way that sound travels. It projects over the exterior spaces in continuity with the interior, and thus appears boundless. At the very centre of the space, the shell opens towards the sky, allowing a shaft of natural light to illuminate the main reading room. This luminous opening is a beacon to visitors. A poetic yet forceful response to the natural setting, the shell adds richness to the site and helps to architecturally define the space.

The clarity of the building materials contributes greatly to the understanding of the structure, but there is also innovation in the library’s mechanical systems: a stormwater recovery system supplies water to the wetland area, a geothermal system connects to a heat exchange loop, and a passive heating system utilizes the heat that has accumulated in the glass prism for redistribution. Low-flow ventilation through the floors reduces the number of ducts required, and green shelving installed in several locations throughout the library filters out the CO2 emissions. Additionally, the abundance of natural daylight combined with special task lighting translates into major energy-cost savings.

JC: The idea that architecture is landscape and landscape is architecture is very interesting for a suburban library. The materiality of the faades, especially on the park side, seems not to be as well resolved as the plans and sections.

AK: This project is an example of mediated urbanity, whose primary power is not in its interpretation of a potentially laden program, the community library. It achieves excellence in its complex urbanity and its aspiration to define a community in flux. The project makes a strong argument for the integration of landscape and community architecture, mediated by formal strategies sympathetic to both. The borough of Saint-Laurent is a growing and densifying community, moving from a suburban to an urban condition. The project works hard to define the street, animate the linear park, and mediate access to the wooded area and sports fields behind. The library acts as both a constructed landscape, formally finding a middle ground between the dense housing units, the adjacent schools and big-box sports facilities, and finally, the landscape elements behind. It is architecture as mediator, beautifully creating thresholds and limits necessary to define the parameters of spaces and communities in flux.

JL: The roof was an intelligent metaphor and area of operation for this design, as the library program is, essentially, one large room. Although the submission hints at a level of interdependency of the building and the site, the drawings do not convey enough information to make this either apparent or convincing. Finally, there is no indication of the material palette for the building which is essential.

Client Ville de Montral–arrondissement de Saint-Laurent
Architect Team Cardinal Hardy: Bao Nguyen, Claude Jean. Labont Marcil: Pierre Labont, Denis Clermont, Jean Marcil. Eric Pelletier Architectes: Eric Pelletier, Amlie Turgeon, Annie Martineau, Laura Didier, Emmanuelle Champagne, Olivier Bourgeois
Structural SDK et associs inc.
Mechanical/Electrical LBHA inc.
Landscape/Interiors Cardinal Hardy | Labont Marcil | Eric Pelletier architectes
LEED Consultant Teknika-HBA
Area 5,700 m2
Budget $25 M
Completion 2012