The Library as a Walled Garden: How the COTE-award-winning Albion Library is helping its neighbors
Public libraries like Toronto’s award-winning Albion District Library are built to serve the communities that surround them, and in this case, a rainbow terracotta façade by NBK offers a welcoming hello to a neighborhood many recent immigrants call home. The bustling library, located in the city’s underprivileged Rexdale area, was recently named among the Top Ten honored projects by the AIA and Committee on the Environment (COTE). For the past 22 years, the awards have celebrated the best in “great design and great performance,” which includes enhanced social, economic and ecological values for projects.
“A district library that serves a diverse and newly-immigrant community, the library has a dramatically increased visitorship (with a notable 75-percent increase for teenagers) over the old facility,” the jury said of the library designed by Perkins+Will. “This project clearly demonstrates the immediate positive impact of good design.”
— Contract Magazine (@contractmag) April 27, 2018
Completed in 2015, the $11.8-million project represents a collaboration among Perkins+Will, led by Andrew Frontini; civil engineers WSP; MEP engineers Hidi Rae and Mulvey Bananni; structural engineer Blackwell Engineering; landscape architect DTAH; and general contractor Acquicon Construction. NBK Façades created the brightly colored glazed and natural vertical tiles that clad the 29,000 sq.-ft. building using terracotta, an ancient building material lauded for its sustainability and its sun-protection properties. The colorful tiles add a friendly look to the façade at Albion, but they’re also highly durable, water-resistant and corrosion-resistant.
“The architect was so smart in how they used color on the building exterior,” said Andrew Rogers, Principal of Sound Solutions, NBK’s distributor in Canada. “The glazed color tiles cover less than half of the surface, but when you drive up to it, that’s what you see. It’s a stunning-looking project.” Rogers called the installation by Triumph Aluminum “flawless.”
Previously, architect Frontini spoke about the brightly-hued library’s overall design goals, telling Architizer, “The library is in a tough urban neighborhood so we wanted to create a joyous expression that is also tough from a material perspective.”
Albion District #library demonstrates the immediate positive impact of good #sustainable design. It serves a diverse immigrant community & provides comfortable, well-daylit, joyful spaces #COTETopTen @perkinswill_ont @torontolibrary @AIANational #EarthDay pic.twitter.com/By2PmXXEFn
— AIA COTE (@AIA_COTE) April 22, 2018
“With its distinctive appearance and excellent sustainability, the Albion Library is an outstanding example of a modern building clad in an ancient material,” says Annette Lindy, who works closely with architects as an exteriors products sales representative for Sound Solutions.
She adds, “From a distance, the façade looks like glazed terracotta – however only one-third is glazed and the rest natural – this saw real-cost savings. NBK terracotta is flexible in so many ways — the size and shape of the tiles, the choices of color and textures, and the direction of the tiles and patterns.”
“In an underprivileged neighborhood, it was important to create a safe place for people of any age to meet, to study, to read and/or research and to inspire,” says Lindy, adding, “We enjoyed working closely with Perkins + Will and with NBK to create this beautiful building that fulfills all these attributes and we are very proud to be part of this project.”
“Perhaps the most compelling story of the Albion District Library is its integration within the diverse and high-need community. The library acts as a walled garden, providing a safe-yet-inclusive, welcoming presence,” the COTE jury noted in announcing the award. Jury members who evaluated project submissions included Michelle Addington, Dean of the School of Architecture at The University of Texas Austin; Jennifer Devlin-Herbert, FAIA, of EHDD in San Francisco; Kevin Schorn, AIA, with Renzo Piano Building Workshop in New York; Julie V. Snow, FAIA, of Snow Kreilich in Minneapolis; and M. Susan Ubbelohde, of LOISOS + UBBELOHDE in Alameda, CA.
After surveying the community’s needs for resources offered by the library, consultants revealed the importance of Albion as a central hub. This led the architects to explore the concept of an enclosed garden space to serve as an urban oasis. The architects also reflected on the universal purpose and shared appreciation of a garden as a way to unite the diverse experiences of the many different cultures that mix and mingle at Albion. To create the walled garden effect, Perkins+Will transitioned from a solid wall to an open screen made up of terracotta baguettes. The baguettes establish a perimeter around courtyards and lift at the corners to further define an entry canopy. Inside, media suites and “maker spaces” encourage creativity and productivity while public dialogues, concerts and spoken-word events can be hosted in adaptable areas like the airy urban living room, which benefits from plenty of natural light.
It’s important to point out that after an evaluation, the architects decided to maintain the existing library, rather than renovate it, which would have required the public library to close its doors for two years. Instead, Perkins+Will created a brand-new space on the adjacent parking lot. Meanwhile, the existing site was then transformed into an urban plaza where community markets and events are held, drawing in more locals. Overall, this project will achieve a “predicted energy use reduction of 40-percent over the national average for this building type and climate while providing thermally comfortable, well daylit, and joyful spaces for the occupants,” according to the COTE jurors, who concluded, “This library is a praiseworthy example of design excellence.”
To see a list of all the Top Ten COTE winners, click here.