Tag Archives: library design

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.

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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…

target-canada

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.