Search for a new Library

The library board has decided it needs a new building, and it wants a trophy building. And it wants it downtown.  Don’t be fooled for a minute about the mooted site at Albert/Bronson. That’s a stalking horse, although it would not be a disaster if all else fails and a library goes there, adjacent a major LRT station and surrounded by as many residents (eventually…) as the Metcalfe Street brutalist pile.

And don’t rule out larger city-building plans pushing the Library further west than centretowner’s might like, to Trinity Development’s Bayview – LeBreton Arena – Bayview Yards innovation centre site at the crossroads of the two LRT lines. The City Centre moniker may yet be less than ironic.

The library board spilled the beans much earlier in publically identifying the Lyon / Albert / Slater block as its preferred location.

slater at lyon 1

The only problem was it didn’t own the site. The city does own a bit of the NE corner, expropriated for an LRT entrance that in a spurt of subsequent  “value engineering” got moved to a cheaper   — but not necessarily better-for-users — location at Lyon / Queen.

Even with the soon-underway apartment development on the west end of the site (replacing the CS COOP offices, see previous story) there’s still lots of room for a library building on the east half block. And the block immediately south of this view is assembled by Minto, owners of the adjacent Minto Place. And the empty block north of this site (around Barbarella’s, soon to be photo-stalked by the Ashley Madison police) is owned by Claridge.

It is a corner out of the Claridge lot (already approved for multiple high rise residences)  that the city now plans to build the LRT station entrance.

Each of these lots would be big enough for a library, and each would be directly connected to the downtown LRT station. Claridge is the most direct, but the CS Coop lot could be connected too, if the under-Lyon pedestrian passageway was built to the original LRT Station entrance.  The City claims that any such passageway must be built by private developers at their own expense, but if that project is a library P3 then maybe we will be paying anyway ….

That passageway could also be connected to Minto Place, to Constitution Square, and the new developments along Lyon. (it is another story if we really want such a pathway … can the city support both a lively underground path AND a lively street level, or will duplication kill both?

Recall that in 45 years Place de Ville has always refused to connect to adjacent developments, even 240 Sparks with its underground levels. And for the LRT Station connecting to Place de Ville making an extended underground path, forget it. Their contract with the city requires that the only connection be through the fare-paid station concourse level deep underground, making thru walking most inconvenient.

Now the developers along Lyon aren’t sleeping at this opportunity. Someone is flashing some Raymond Moriyama concept sketches. Moriyama is architect of the of the popular (and economic to build) War Museum and the Beaverbrook Library rebuild, The sketches are pretty sexy, enough to cause heart palpitations at the city.

His sketches are of a stand alone building with soaring green roofs and light filled spaces inside.

Which is a problem.

It’s virtually guaranteed Watson will want an air rights development above, in a P3 agreement, to minimize the city’s costs. If the tower goes on the south (slater) side of the site, there goes the sun. And I wouldn’t hold my breath for this library P3 either, since the city staff to negotiate it are still all tied up in the Arts Court P3 which is running year(s) late and is so bureaucratic it scared off at least two major developers from submitting bids even after they had spent hundreds of thousands working out detailed proposals (shades of the overly bureaucratic fiasco on LeBreton a few years back, or Parks Can and the Rideau Canal boat excursions).

I am not confident that the city has developed better skills post Lansdowne Park P3 and given the never-ending Arts Court. One short term risk is that the public will question more closely just how much or little public amenity actually gets delivered.

Since we are talking new Libraries, you can see Moriyama’s skills on his website:

I made a point of visiting two much discussed public libraries in the last year, both of them interesting and yet disappointing in their own ways.  Let’s look at them next.



6 thoughts on “Search for a new Library

  1. “The library board has decided it needs a new building, and it wants a trophy building. And it wants it downtown.”

    I would rather have a small library (or a small swimming pool, or…) in my neighborhood than a huge trophy library far away downtown where I almost never go.

    Check this in Scarborough:

    New Library Opens at Scarborough Civic Centre
    As the Toronto Public Library’s 100th branch,
    the new library represents an important milestone for the city,
    further expanding what is already one of the largest and most comprehensive library systems in the world.

  2. I for one would like a “trophy library”, if by “trophy library” we mean one that is thoughtfully designed and an example of inspiring architecture. Or, are we not allowed to have nice things? Does wanting a purely functional building built by the lowest bidder signal some kind of higher virtue? Cities do not go broke building nice libraries.

  3. This article on HdM’s “Triangle Tower” in Paris exemplifies the problem with trophy/iconic/worldclass/award-winning as the goal for architecture. Architecture is more than that. Civic projects should be more than that.

    “Everything is done to seduce politicians and investors with flashy marketing proposals which promote global investment, the privatisation of urban space and the ‘society of spectacle’. . . As usual, ‘architecture’ and its promotional mechanisms are used to camouflage the manoeuvres of political and financial power.”

    1. Sarah: this is not a problem Ottawa needs to concern itself with in general. We will not have a Triangle Tower proposed for Ottawa. Our starchitect nonsense is lower-key (i.e. Liebskind Holocaust memorial). No, the threat is NOT some monumental Rem Koolhaas $400M prize-bait, it’s the choice between a purpose built building by a Canadian architectural firm or the ground floor of a condo tower. The former is what qualifies as a “trophy library” is this town.

      1. I like to see support of good architecture. But “trophy” architecture’s goal is to look good in a travel brochure, attract financing, and give politicians a ribbon-cutting photo-op — a pretty superficial measure of good architecture.

  4. I do not want a trophy library. Instead, the money should be spent opening small branches throughout the city, possibly by leasing cheap space in some of the city’s many underused strip malls.

    The elmvale library has been in a strip mall for generations. A visit to the library is part of the grocery – pharmacy – hardware store weekly ritual.

    Expensive building satisfy politician and library administrator egos. But doesn’t serve the people.

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