By Ida Relsted Kærup,
Architectural Communication Officer at schmidt hammer lassen.
The first, large-scale, modern hybrid library to open in Canada in recent years, the new Halifax Central Library, designed by Danish firm schmidt hammer lassen architects, has just opened in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The design contract was won in 2010 following an international competition in collaboration with local architects Fowler Bauld & Mitchell, and aimed to make Halifax Central Library will be a cultural hub for the entire community.
This modern hybrid library has already received international recognition well before its official opening – National Geographic Traveller magazine has rated Halifax #23 in a list of ‘Smart Cities’ in large part because of the forthcoming library, and CNN has dubbed the library as one of the ‘10 most eye-popping buildings of 2014’.
The new 15,000 m2 library is the product of an extensive co-creation process involving monthly public consultations and workshops with various focus groups. This is truly a case of user involvement.
The library is not just a destination to learn and to read, but is also a place to connect and socialise. The building is both flexible in function and in accessibility, with a café, special exhibitions and a space for cultural performances that will remain open and accessible, even when the library areas are closed. As such, it is a fully accessible, open and welcoming building for all users. One of the key concepts of the library is the idea of the ‘third space’ – a space between the workplace and home. Another is the idea of a ‘hub in the city’ for people to meet.
The library is designed to serve a wealth of different purposes, allowing visitors either to use it in the conventional sense as a library – or to experience it as a space for social interaction and for more diverse, less conventional library activities. In this sense, the new library is a multifunctional cultural hub, with direct access to its vibrant surroundings in the urban context of historic and new buildings, together with the buzz of downtown Halifax.
When designing libraries, architects have, through the organization of space, taken advantage of the unique opportunity to create new ways for people to meet and interact. This fits in with the concept that modern libraries are social, public spaces, which, aside from museums, are among the few existing non-commercial civic spaces available. Libraries play an important role in society because they also function as social hubs or urban meeting places.
schmidt hammer lassen architects has an extensive track-record of designing libraries; the most renowned examples of which are the extension to the Royal Library in Copenhagen, Denmark and the RIBA award-winning University of Aberdeen New Library in Scotland. Earlier this year, the first library designed by the architectural practice in Canada was opened in Edmonton. In 2015, DOKK1, the new public library in Aarhus, Denmark, which, when completed, will be the largest of its kind in Scandinavia.