Calgary Central Library


Michael Grimm

Blocks away from Norman Foster’s iconic bowed tower and Bjarke Ingels’ soon-to-be-complete first built project in the city, Calgary’s new central library, designed by Snøhetta and Canadian firm DIALOG, is open to the public.

Af Finn MacLeod

Just east of downtown, a vibrant new district is taking shape in Calgary; located on a site within a master-planned redevelopment of the city’s East Village, the opening of the new Central Library marks a major milestone in Calgary’s urban renewal.

The city’s largest public investment since the 1988 Olympics, the new Central Library provides a contemporary — and much-needed — new home for the city’s library. Used by more than half of Calgarians annually, the city’s public library system is one of the largest and most active in North America. Until now, the Calgary Public Library sorely lacked a twenty-first-century hub designed to meet contemporary needs. The new building, which spans six floors and 240,000 square feet, is two-thirds bigger than its aging predecessor and offers myriad new types of spaces and resources.

The new library’s oblong site presented a unique challenge to the designers: accommodate an active light rail line bisecting the site, while creating an array of public spaces at-grade and above. Designers responded by raising the library to perch atop a tunnel framing the half-moon-shaped rail line, allowing it to guide the design in practical and esoteric ways.

Reminiscent of Snøhetta’s design for Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre in Toronto, the new Calgary Central Library is transparent and open, with a vibrant combination of spatial programming. Clad in a modular hexagonal facade, the building glows like a lantern at night while providing ample daylight through to its core — a vital element in a city with a six-month-long winter season. Surrounded by natural grasses and framed by gently sloping public plazas, the new library’s design is intended to welcome visitors from the outset.

The new building provides spaces for all types of people and activities — for social interaction and exchange, for studying and learning, for quiet and introspection — championing the unique civic function that libraries provide today. 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.
— Snøhetta

As visitors enter the building, the bright white veneer of the exterior is replaced by a warm wooden interior punctuated by a soaring, raw concrete structure and whimsical, colorful furniture. The central atrium features an oculus that bathes the interior in light, while open staircases and walkways enliven the experience of circulating through the building. A variety of rooms accommodate learning of all types: quiet and loud, analog and digital, collaborative and individual, focused and energetic.

No two spaces are the same: slight changes in the architectural vocabulary of each room denote variations in use — a hallmark of Snøhetta’s design approach. On the highest floor is the Great Reading Room, as a jewel-box-like space tucked within the library, which provides a space for focused study and inspiration, while at the northernmost point of the building, the living room — a more casual space — overlooks the train line and offers views of downtown and the East Village.  

Designed to meet the growing needs of the city, the new library includes 30 meeting spaces for community use, a 350-seat performance hall, a children’s and teen area, a café, and 75,000 square feet of outdoor gathering and seating space — among many features. The building incorporates an array of sustainable technology and is targeting LEED Gold certification.

The final addition to this growing cultural district, the Calgary Central Library serves as a community anchor, transit hub, and social connector. Positioned immediately adjacent to the Calgary Civic Centre, the library is poised to become a nexus for the city’s workforce, while enabling the growth of library membership.