Vancouver and surroundings


Surrey Public Library (left) and City Hall


Surrey is an adjacent district of Vancouver. I visited its Civic Centre recently, which is part of a larger plan to use civic infrastructure as social space. Libraries are an interest of mine; in particular the changing role of libraries and different modalities of engagement within the library e.g. digital learning, makerspaces. [If you’re interested in reading more, you can find an article I wrote on the Toronto Reference Library on Canadian Architect]. The Surrey City Centre Library by Bing Thom Architects is conceived as a series of different height spaces organized around an upward winding central atrium. I like the “living room,” a casual double height reading area -complete with fireplace and rock-shaped soft seating-  next to sweeping windows overlooking a public plaza.



Stanley Park is a 1000-acre urban park that borders downtown Vancouver. Still densely forested, its trails, beaches, lakes, and recreational facilities attract thousands daily. It is almost entirely surrounded by water – you can follow its 22-kilometre seawall by bike or by blade. This green peninsula in the city is not isolated — walking through Vancouver’s downtown core, it is not difficult to find instances of green and open space. This adds to the city’s human scale.









Followed by some random Vancouver sights…






Vancouver’s Millennium Water Olympic Village – North America’s first LEED Platinum Community – served as the Athletes’ Village for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Formerly an industrial site, it was the catalyst for the revitalization of the surrounding False Creek neighbourhood.




La Ville de Québec






Guy Levesque crafting another of his extraordinary hand carved molds.

Guy Levesque crafting another of his extraordinary hand carved molds.

Meet Guy Levesque, a rare find. He provides a glimpse into the world of a true artisan. For over 25 years, from his workshop-gallery in the Old Port district of Quebec City, he has brought the medieval art of Venetian mask making to Canada. His influences span Commedia dell’arte, Japanese Noh, to the contemporary. His chosen media are leather and metal, which can also be seen in his unique furniture pieces.





Une tradition québécoise: le tire d'érable (maple taffy)

Une tradition québécoise: le tire d’érable (maple taffy)

Moriyama & Teshima Architects imagine and re-imagine the Toronto Reference Library

This is an article I wrote for Canadian Architect magazine.

Toronto Reference Library, circa 1977. Photo by M&T Architects.

Toronto Reference Library, circa 1977. Photo by M&T Architects.

The Toronto Reference Library (TRL) is the flagship of the world’s busiest urban library system. Occupying over 416,000 square feet, it is a landmark situated adjacent to one of the city’s liveliest intersections—Yonge and Bloor—at the junction of two subway lines. The TRL opened its doors in 1977. Designed by architect Raymond Moriyama, the robust five-storey building was clad in red brick, its mass scaled back by terracing the façade along the diagonal. Bands of mirrored glass suggested an inner world within. The narrow corner entrance, flanked on two sides by a colonnade, drew patrons into the building’s soaring interior. With escalating demands on the library system, the TRL recently completed an extensive five-year phased revitalization led by Moriyama & Teshima Architects, though its cofounder Raymond has since retired.

The renewal of the TRL presented an opportunity to create a library of the future for Torontonians: a technologically advanced public space to meet a growing need for innovation, research and collaboration. Outreach strategies include an expanding range of programming. Here, you can take a workshop, get a flu shot, publish a book, or make a 3D-printed model.

“The key,” says Raymond’s son Ajon Moriyama, who was partner in charge of the revitalization (he has since left the firm), “was creating as much flexibility—physically, operationally and socially—in the space as possible.”

A view of the extensive renovations made to the Toronto Reference Library by Moriyama & Teshima Architects.

A view of the extensive renovations made to the Toronto Reference Library by Moriyama & Teshima Architects.

The building buzzes from top to bottom. It is centred on a vast tiered atrium inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The interiors are bright, airy and uncluttered. Over the last five years, a series of interventions were thoughtfully integrated: a refurbished gallery, a freestanding theatre, a cultural and literary salon seating 600, enhanced spaces for quiet individual study and group work. A double-height rotunda dedicated to special collections reinterprets the romantic feel of old libraries with a distinctly modern material palette of concrete, titanium and dark wood. Each venue provides opportunities for people to meet, interact and exchange ideas.

Special Collections. Image courtesy of the Toronto Reference Library.

Special Collections. Image courtesy of the Toronto Reference Library.

While the TRL’s role as a social gathering place grows, the written word still lies at its core, both in physical and digital form. Over four million items reside on site—novels, periodicals, films and maps. The building employs concealed mezzanines to maximize overall storage capability, amplified through the use of space-saving compact shelves. Open-plan layouts were rezoned for easier self-navigation; stacks were reconfigured to facilitate research. The library continues to explore and adopt emerging technological tools to better monitor collections and support learning and discovery.

Beyond the rows of books and computers are labs and maker spaces—means by which the TRL helps drive digital literacy through experiential learning. Access to laser cutters and audio mixers turns patrons from content consumers into creators.

Toronto Reference Library

Toronto Reference Library, circa 2014.

Toronto Reference Library - Rendering from original proposal. Image courtesy of Unbuilt Toronto 2.

Toronto Reference Library – Rendering from original proposal. Image courtesy of Unbuilt Toronto 2.

The library’s re-envisioned design recalls Raymond Moriyama’s visionary initial design concept of a glass box, which the City dropped in favour of a brick-clad volume. The revitalization provides a more open and transparent interface with the street: a reading lounge invites glimpses in, a bustling café entices passersby. The formerly dark, deep entrance now takes the dynamic form of a rotated glass cube. At night, it appears as a glowing beacon. The building reclaims its corner site, its evolving mix of paper and pixels drawing from—and contributing to—the downtown milieu.

Stephanie Calvet is a Toronto-based architect and writer.

Faux Sunlight

Interior space illuminated by high tech LED skylight from Coelux

CoeLux uses LEDs and nano-materials to create a startling facsimile of sunlight.

Here is a technologically innovative light fixture that simulates the look of sunlight through a skylight. It is made from a material that mimics the light scattering achieved through the Earth’s atmosphere. CoeLux wants to change our experience in spaces cut off from the outside. Different models recreate the warm, grazing light of Northern Europe or the dramatic light of the Tropics. It is currently being used in ‘iceberg homes’ —mega basements for the wealthy in London. But imagine it being used in hospitals, gyms, offices, and carparks. It could have some real impact when the price comes down…

Below is the full article from the blog PetaPixel. Photos by Michael Loos.

Interior space illuminated by high tech LED skylight from Coelux

Accurately mimicking sunlight isn’t just a matter of creating a perfect simulation of the sunlight’s wavelength, but recreating a process called Rayleigh scattering where that light is subtly distorted by atmospheric particles.

There’s an innovative new light technology that’s trying to shake up the way people think about “artificial light.” In Italian company called CoeLux has developed a new light source that recreates the look of sunlight through a skylight so well that it can trick both human brains and cameras.

It’s a high tech LED skylight that’s designed to provide “sunlight” for interior spaces cut off from the outdoors. One of the main ideas behind it is that to create realistic sunlight, you can’t just simulate the sun… you need to recreate the atmosphere as well.

CoeLux turns a basement washroom into a passable alternative to a Mediterranean spa.

A basement washroom transformed into a passable alternative to a Mediterranean spa.


Interior space illuminated by high tech LED skylight from Coelux

The scientists who invented the light figured out how to use a thin coating of nanoparticles to accurately simulate sunlight through Earth’s atmosphere and the effect known as Rayleigh scattering. It’s not just the color temperature that is the same — the quality of the light feels the same as well.

People who have had a chance to experience the skylight so far have been fooled into believing that there was an actual hole in the ceiling, and the sample photos on the CoeLux website come with a cautionary note: “The photographs on this site are real and unretouched. They are not computer renderings.”

The technology is designed for providing the appearance of sunlight to spaces that could use it (e.g. hospitals, gyms, offices, underground parking structures), but it seems photographers could also make use of it as well for an artificial sunlight source in a studio — especially people who work in places with unpredictable or limited sunlight. However, the price would need to come down first: CoeLux currently costs £40,000 (~$61,000) to buy and up to £5,000 (~$7,600) for installation.

CoeLux says future improvements will include the ability to change the position of the sun in the frame and dynamic color temperature of the sunlight.


The innovation behind CoeLux is a custom nano material that recreates the effects of 6,200 miles of atmosphere into a sheet of plastic just a few millimeters thick.

Wired magazine also has an article on this: A Nanotech Skylight That Looks Just Like The Sun Shining Overhead.

Big-box buyers become bookworms

Here is an idea that has been mooted post- Target Canada debacle. And it comes, indirectly, from its discount store rival Walmart, no less. After Walmart abandoned one of its retail stores in McAllen, Texas, the city decided to reuse the structure as a new main library. Reinvention in the face of adversity is a common theme these days.

McAllen, Texas' new main library is located in a converted Walmart store. Photo by MSR.

McAllen, Texas’ new library is located in a converted Walmart. Photo: MSR Design

Target Canada recently announced that it is packing up shop less than two years after opening 133 stores across the country. Some blame its failure in the Canadian market on anti-competitive pricing while others attribute it to a limited product selection (I’ve also heard “it didn’t understand the complexity of the Canadian consumer”). It will be interesting to know what’s in store for the slew of these newly vacant big-boxes in the ‘burbs. In the meantime, ears are perked for ‘liquidation sales!’ Let’s hope incoming Uniqlo fares better…


Your typical Target Canada superstore. Photo: Geoff Robins/Reuters

South of the snowline, architecture firm Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle (MSR) has created a highly functional, flexible library of 125,000 square feet, making it the largest single-storey library in the U.S.A. To give that some context, it is an area equivalent to nearly 2 1/2 football fields.

To start, the former Walmart store’s ceilings were stripped and the interior and new mechanical systems were painted white to form a neutral backdrop for new patron and service areas, which are designated with colour and texture.

BEFORE. Photo: MSR Design

Within the sprawling volume, the designers created more intimate spaces introducing form, pattern, and light. All aspects –from the interior architecture, to the graphics, to the furnishings– work in harmony and relate to one another.

The library creates a much-needed intellectual and social hub that arguably brings more to the community than another superstore can. The new venue boasts 16 public meeting spaces, 14 public study rooms, 64 computer labs, 10 children’s computer labs, and 2 genealogy computer labs. Other features include an auditorium, an art gallery, a used bookstore and a café. There is even a Farmer’s Market on the weekends.

Here is what the designers came up with:

Laser-cut wood ceiling plane runs the length of the building. Photo courtesy of MSR.

Laser-cut wood ceiling plane runs the length of the building. Photo: MSR Design

Super-graphic-clad ceiling pendants and lighting and flooring choices define spaces. Photo courtesy of MSR.

Super-graphic-clad ceiling pendants, lighting and flooring choices define spaces. Photo: MSR Design

For easy wayfinding and to encourage self-servicing, service desks and collection areas are designated with colourful, textural landmarks. Photo: MSR Design

Inspired by the Fibonacci Series, the layout and patterns found in the childrens area mimic growth patterns in kids. Photo by MSR.

Inspired by the Fibonacci Series, the layout and patterns found in the children’s area mimic growth patterns in kids. Photo: MSR Design

The teen hang-out area is acoustically separated from the rest of the library. Photo: MSR Design

FLOOR PLAN: bisecting axes define program areas. Image courtesy of MSR.

FLOOR PLAN: bisecting axes define program areas. Image: MSR Design

There is a lot of talk these days of how libraries, large and small, are evolving in the face of the digital revolution, which is radically changing how we access and consume information. As we see in McAllen, libraries are prioritizing community engagement and facilitating new learning models. But that’s a broader topic for another day.

To find out more about this project, click here.