New Scarborough library a “green respite”

By Patricia Williams
June 16, 2015

A public library designed to transcend its primary role as a local community hub has opened its doors at the Scarborough Civic Centre in Toronto.

Designed by LGA Architectural Partners and Phillip H. Carter Architect in a joint venture, the 14,500-square-foot branch of the Toronto Public Library is located at the south side of the iconic civic centre. Completed in May by contractor Aquicon Construction, the new library was also conceived as a green respite within the local urban context. Total project cost was $10.3 million.

The building has an outdoor reading garden as well as a green roof. From an architectural perspective, the key challenge was to design a building that was “strong (in its identity) yet adaptable,” said Brock James, partner in charge of the project at LGA. “It had to have a unique identity and meet its own needs as a community hub while occupying the forefront of the civic centre building and orchestrating … a renewed southern face to the district,” he said via e-mail. The new structure contrasts the civic centre’s vertical faces with low sprawling roof bands, to be planted with local vegetation. James said the black spruce roof structure is designed to not only bring warmth to the space “but also to create an expressive structure that is enjoyable to spend time in as the light shifts throughout the day. “We (the architectural team) also like the relatively low carbon footprint of wood as a structural solution.” The supplier was Nordic Structures.

“Attention to detail and a thorough understanding of each and every aspect of the construction process can prevent anything from poor subcontractor performance to late delivery.”

Daniel Aquino, President, Aquicon Construction

The library’s strategic position is intended to animate its surroundings by creating several distinct zones and connections. Near the library’s main entrance, slanting columns enliven a new plaza along Borough Drive. At the west end, a new urban garden graces the edges of a pedestrian walkway, creating a second front entrance to the Civic Centre. To the north, a gently sloped and planted ramp provides barrier-free access to the centre’s Albert Campbell Square. To the east, the library envelops three existing oak trees.

The building has also been designed to be technologically adaptable. To ensure maximum flexibility, as well as barrier-free accessibility, the open-concept building occupies one floor. All the tables and stacks are on wheels, to enable easy re-organization. The raised podium floor has a grid of moveable electrical and data connections that can be re-arranged as needed. The two separate rooms adjacent to the central hall — a digital innovation hub and a multi-purpose room — are portioned with glass walls to allow for visual continuity. Stacks ring a central gathering space, in close proximity to one another.

The project was undertaken by a team that included structural engineers Blackwell, mechanical and electrical engineers Enso Systems, civil engineers Fabian Papa, and Scott Torrance Landscape Architect Inc. Sub-contractors included Van Mechanical and Masters Electric. In terms of construction, James said Aquicon had to contend with “a very tight” sloped site with public activity on three sides and a stand of trees on the fourth. He said Aquicon’s “seasoned” site superintendent, Conrad Burden, had to carefully organize the sequence of work “to keep things moving and not get hemmed in.”

Construction got underway in April 2013 on the library, the 100th for the Toronto Public Library. It houses a collection of 40,000 books, audiobooks, magazines and DVDs in English, Chinese, Gujarati and Tamil.

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