LeBetter Flats countown (iii) – libraries and “culture”

Both submissions to rebuild the last portion of LeBreton Flats include sport arenas, and I expect  both will include a new central library. This is both for marketing purposes, ie broadening the appeal of the project to cover both stereotypical biases about  “jocks” and “intellectuals”, and also because a civic contribution to redeveloping the Flats is good planning.

In a new, central urban redevelopment scheme, it makes sense to have a variety of uses built in from the beginning … work, live, eat, play … sort of thing. Lansdowne Park comes to mind. Despite much initial (and some ongoing …) opposition, a survey in the Glebe Report in December shows considerable acceptance by Glebites of that project. Would it be a better place if the library branch was in there, maybe in the Horticultural building? The Lansdowne redevelopment is proving to be a useful  waypost towards a better LeBreton (and with the same developer bidding…).

We know one proponent, Trinity/Sens, will propose a library for its LeBreton project and for its immediately adjacent Bayview Station project. We know the City has also suggested the site it owns on Albert Street, where the sheds and construction stuff now is for digging the transit tunnel:

ottawa 200m line

The City parcel of land is between Commissioner – Albert – Brickhill – Old Wellington, basically the block to the left of the #42 on the map. That site is plenty big enough for a library and other buildings, or a combined civic library and national archives.

A building there could be directly connected, indoors, to the new Pimisi LRT Station. There is room for an iconic building too, with a large triangular parkette just south of it for people to pause and gawk as they come from the current business district:

bronson albert option 1

(above drawing is one of several concepts for redoing the Bronson-Albert-Slater intersection; “old” Slater is the shown under the P of CONCEPT; Albert and Slater Streets are combined starting at Good Companions on the right, as far as the new ped / cyclist crossing recently installed midblock at the N of CONCEPT; the library could be at the block marked CON which is currently the construction site for the tunnel; the triangular parkette space is actually quite large and is slightly higher than the library site, which would offer good views of an iconic building and would be a fine artwork focal node)

And a building on the  city’s site would offer  fine views of the Ottawa River, the view below being from the 8th floor  Bridgehead:


Or the building could go elsewhere on the Flats, there is plenty of choice space … I think it is essential to have a direct (indoor)   connection to (rather than just “near to”)  the Pimisi or Bayview Stations  to enhance city-wide accessibility.

There is already a lobby group for an “iconic” tourist-attracting library building, but this is at odds of Watson’s frugal mind – he wants another user in that building to pay for it, ie condos or offices above. Although a federal wallet would do just fine too.

I don’t think anyone goes to a city just to see the library, but for someone already going somewhere any nifty new building attracts tourists (like me). Here’s Seattle’s downtown library:

aug 27 2014 287

and alas, it has the dumbest floorplate imaginable where it needs a jackhamer to move a bookshelf and staff / users with the agility of mountain goats since floor elevations change constantly and stairs / ramps abound:

aug 27 2014 286

Montreal’s new  municipal library and Quebec archives are also in a combined “trophy” building. I spent time there last summer figuring out how it worked …. Many of the grand spaces are taller than wide, like an upended shoebox:


and on the user floors themselves, I often felt crushed beneath very visually-heavy ceilings.

It is essentially a glass box — so glassy it lets in too much light, so translucent green glass louvres are required on the outside IMG_3988

and where there are not outside louvres, enormous wood louvre walls were required inside to diffuse the light IMG_3981

Mind, I still believe we can have good design, even great design, without the excess flourishes and leaky roofs of starchitecture:



So I definitely say yes to the possibility of a new central library on the Flats, for reasons of accessibility and place building and shifting the transportation focus to transit. What its design will be … is another matter I am much less confident of.

We are fortunate that we have a variety of acceptable site choices open for a new library in the central core.

Note to reader:  this is not a story about all the possible locations for a library, or the merits of putting it in the business district vs the byward market or king edward avenue or sandy hill. It is a story about LeBreton Flats, hopefully offering the reader some insight about fit and utility of a new central library there.


5 thoughts on “LeBetter Flats countown (iii) – libraries and “culture”

  1. You didn’t even mention the Halifax library, which is pretty much perfect. It looks like “starchitecture” but is actually quite functional. And cost only 67 mil. A bargain compared to the numbers I’ve seen for Ottawa

    1. Matt: I didn’t include Halifax because I haven’t visited it personally yet to verify if the hype is warranted. I do hope so, since Halifax is on our (still tentative) travel list for this year. The problem with starchitecture is that the desire to be odd, different, unique or whatever sometimes overcomes the need to do basic things, like keep the rain out and heat in. And presumably the library should function well for users and staff. I want a nice building, with attractive architecture, but overall I want it to function well with more of what we want. Keep in mind the story wasn’t about library design, it was about fitting a library, either as a showpiece or not, on the Flats, with emphasis on one particular lot already identified as a potential site.

  2. I agree with the Halifax concept too and would like to see free public transit in the new subway between Ottawa U and through Lebreton Flats with connector tunnels from the subway to main points of human interest like the arena and library, much like the underground network of Place Ville Marie or Toronto. This would encourage human usage in all weather conditions and underground stores could contribute revenue to the cost of free transportation in the downtown core.

    1. Don: In order for a underground city to work, there has to be enough people to populate both the tunnel level and the street level. Big cities may have this. Cities like Ottawa, with its ghost towny downtown business district, not so much. If both levels are underpopulated, there isnt enough traffic to keep stores open, they close early and often, the passageways gets scarily empty, some sections close reducing reliability further .. and you get Minneapolis.

  3. Having lived in Halifax for many years, and recently visiting the city and it’s new library, I certainly believe it is an excellent addition to Spring Garden Road in Halifax. Moreover, it is a great improvement over the previous library (although the city and province are currently struggling to figure out what to do with the empty heritage building).

    With that in mind, I really fail to see the need for a new library in Lebreton Flats. The current library on the corner of Laurier and Metcalfe is perfectly fine. It’s not beautiful, but it isn’t bursting at the seams either. Does anybody walk out of there thinking we desperately need a new library? Preferably OUTSIDE the downtown core? A small community library for the “new” neighbourhood of Lebreton Flats is all that’s really necessary, there’s no need to overthink it.

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