Libraries across North America are adapting to their new role as gathering spaces – especially in universities, where studying means group work and WiFi is as important as air.
At York, LGA won an invited competition for this project and they’re now overseeing the first (17,000-square-foot) phase, a multipurpose space that combines academic support services and flexible study areas.
“The classic library can be more about security for books than for study,” says partner-in-charge Brock James. The new project “is not so much about books as about bringing together all the student supports on campus – and giving a place for students to work together.”
Inside the library’s second floor, they’ve designed a hub for student services, and then a “main street” connecting the “Collaboratory” and “Salon.”
The Salon includes reference stacks, scattered computer terminals and lounge seating for quiet work. “In the Salon, there are two great walls for displaying art,” James says, “and we are hoping to relocate two existing nail art works [by David Partridge] from the atrium.”
The Collaboratory (image at top of post) is a flex space for group study, with carefully chosen modular furniture. “It’s basically a kit of parts,” James explains. “Here’s a 7-foot whiteboard; here are some task chairs; here are a couple of tables. And let’s move them over by the window, because it’s a beautiful day.”
The flexibility and the design of these interiors – colourful, contemporary, youthful – will help to draw students in.
But just as interesting are the quiet interventions LGA has designed for the ceiling and atrium of the Brutalist building. James says, “The existing library building is a quite beautiful concrete structure, but it’s a bit alienating, a bit monumental in spots.” This is true.
An atrium extends up through the stacks. To better connect the second floor Salon with the atrium, LGA is calling for the removal of a few walls – but adding acoustic dampening instead, so that students in the stacks can get some peace.
On the ceilings, LGA are working with the geometry of the existing architecture – a square waffle grid – while altering it functionally. Alternate squares right now are filled with acoustic tile; LGA is replacing them with wood coffers instead, for specific acoustic effects as well as visual impact. James sums up the firm’s approach to the project this way: “You try to travel as light as possible, and work with what is interesting.”
Finally, this Learning Commons has to serve an urbanistic purpose as well. The Scott Library was part of the campus’s first wave in the early 1960s, designed a by three of Canada’s top modernist firms along with landscape architect Hideo Sasaki (history here, PDF). Today the campus has a reputation for grimness. And there are many good buildings, but they don’t relate to each other very well.
To make the Learning Campus into a hub, and give the library more presence on campus, LGA is proposing a horizontal LED strip light along the exterior windows. “The light will be a reading light inside and will act as a graphic element from the exterior,” James says. These are a few moves that should go a long way to give the library a new look and new relevance.