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Calgary’s new library opens

The Snøhetta- and DIALOG-designed library reached substantial completion in July 2018, was handed over to Calgary Public Library in September, and opened on time and on budget.


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The unique hexagonal geometry of the façade balances the distribution of clear and fritted glass openings to control desired daylight levels, responding to the library’s need for a broad variety of interior experiences.

On November 1 Calgary’s new Central Library, designed by Snøhetta and DIALOG, opened its doors to the public.

The 240,000 sq. ft. library marks the city’s largest public investment since the 1988 Olympics.

The building is sited within the city’s centre, where a fully operational LRT line crosses the site from above to below ground on a curved half-moon path, dividing Calgary’s downtown and East Village.

The library design lifts the main entry over the encapsulated train line. Terraced slopes rise up to the heart of the building, allowing for people arriving from every direction to interact with the library.

Outdoor amphitheaters nestled into the terraces provide places for people to sit and for library programs to operate outside.

The triple-glazed façade is composed of a modular, hexagonal pattern that expresses the library’s aims to provide a space that invites in all visitors. Aggregated variations on the hexagon form scatter across the building’s curved surface in alternating panels of fritted glass and occasional iridescent aluminum.

The entire building volume is enclosed in the same pattern, allowing all sides to function as the “front” of the building. This visual vocabulary continues inside, expressed in the design of its new visual identity and wayfinding signage in the building, unifying the library’s goals of inclusivity.

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Created entirely of planks of western red cedar from B.C., the double-curved shell is among one of the largest freeform timber shell in the world. As the archway continues into the lobby and atrium, the wood spirals upwards over 85 feet to a view of the sky through the oculus. (images courtesy Snøhetta)

The crystalline geometry of the façade is carved away to reveal an expansive wood archway that embraces visitors as they approach. Created entirely of planks of western red cedar from B.C., the double-curved shell is among one of the largest freeform timber shell in the world. As the archway continues into the lobby and atrium, the wood spirals upwards over 85 feet to a view of the sky through the oculus.

Wood slats line the perimeter of the open atrium, shaped in plan like a pointed ellipse, serving as an orientation device for people to grasp the circulation and organizational logic of the library.

Inside, the concrete structure is left exposed and unfinished. The rhythm of beams and columns are reminiscent of a stoa, the public, open-air colonnades of ancient Greek architecture that doubled as spaces of gathering and intellectual exchange. The rawness of the material palette is intended to give people the sense that the library is a place of engagement, rather than a sacrosanct repository for books.

Organized on a spectrum of ‘Fun’ to ‘Serious,’ the library program locates the livelier public activities on the lower floors, gradually transitioning to quieter study areas on the upper levels as one spirals upwards. At the street level, a series of multi-purpose rooms line the perimeter of the building, and on the ground floor, a children’s library offers playhouses that provide space for crafts and drawing-based activities, early literacy programs, and a full-body indoor play experience.

Throughout the six floors, a variety of spaces provide for digital, analog, group, and individual interactions. At the uppermost level of the library is the Great Reading Room, a space for focused study and inspiration. Readers enter through a transitional space with softened light and acoustics. Within, vertical wood slats line the space to provide both privacy and visibility, defining an interior space without using solid walls. Natural light illuminates the space through the wood slats creating glancing sightlines between the atrium and western façade.

Arriving at the northernmost point of the library, one finds oneself at the Living Room, overlooking the train line and the meeting point of the two neighborhoods. Filled with light and activity, this prow of the building will not only serve as a beacon to those outside, inviting them to enter, but also as a prospect for looking back out – a fitting vantage point to observe the impact of a building that hopes to re-energize the spirit of culture, learning, and community in Calgary.

The Snøhetta- and DIALOG-designed library reached substantial completion in July 2018, was handed over to Calgary Public Library in September, and opened on time and on budget.

Team Credits:

  • Design Architect, Landscape Architect, Interior Architecture, FF&E, Millwork, Signage & Wayfinding: Snøhetta
  • Executive Architect & Executive Landscape Architect: DIALOG
  • Client: Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC)
  • Size: 240,000 sq.ft.
  • Budget: $245 million (total project cost), $147 million (hard cost)
  • Structural: Entuitive
  • Mechanical: DIALOG
  • Electrical & Lighting: SMP Engineering
  • IT/AV: McSquared System Design Group, Inc.
  • Contractor: Stuart Olson