BCLA 2014: Libraries, Architecture, and the Urban Context

Michael Heeney, Bing Thom Architects

The urban life has changed. Used to be was in education very few years, but now with double the lifespan, we spend more time in education.

Example: Fort Worth, cascading courtyards in building the college campus connecting downtown to waterfront.

Sunset Community Centre – modest project, integrate community into buildings. Could have parades through building. Taking kids to school can take shortcut through building to see what’s happening. Dirt turned into natural amphitheatre.

Research of Statistics and Data

Research department understanding statistics and data of the community working in. Helping for arguments for funding.

Population Centre Point of Metro Vancouver = equal number of people all around you. 1961 (near burnaby border in the centre. 2011 is in New West. Younger farther into suburb, older closer back to Vancouver. Surrey City Centre has grown greatly and was at ~468k (size of Vancouver when VPL Central was opened).

Jobs in Surrey is also increasing at a large rate. Vast majority are really small companies (1-4 employees).

Age population is close to Vancouver, but more kids. Immigration population has grown 22% -> 41%

Economic role to support small businesses with meeting rooms, research, etc.

Was originally brought in for Performing Arts Centre. Municipal government went to provincial government for some funding and helping to bring together different partners. Built building of integration with mall, offices, university.

Changes in Educational Levels. Increase from 1996 to 2011 247% HS diploma, 150%+ Bachelor’s

Trade area, more than half is served by Surrey.

Master plan of Surrey: move city hall, library, performing arts centre. Federal gov also came up with stimulus program and successful for library.

Library had to be built in 18 months. Whalley library was in old plumbing store at the time.

What is a library?

Started thinking about books, digital (different forms). Started thinking about space and its important in the community. Had to have inventory of different scales of spaces. Old ones had big inspiring spaces.

How do you connect with the community?

On a very tight timeline. Had some workshops, met with various groups (playdough furniture), open houses. Public outreach through social media.

Ground floor is most valuable real estate, so took every space and even tilted building outwards to get 80k sq ft in the end.

Typologies: magic box, promenade, galleria (but not as efficient), the embrace (atrium in the middle). Mix of high and low spaces by having some half floors and some full floors.

Main floor consisted of lobby, multipurpose room, circulation, outreach, children’s area. Stacks, silent study, offices, teen area (on the opposite side), classrooms, future literacy centre, ending in green roof with skylight, trellis.

Building was mix of concrete wall, sunshades, glazing. Few windows on west and south side.

Looks complicated but actually repetitive forms means jigs can be used over and over.

Themes for a Contemporary Library

clearly organized

  • get a good sense of space and where info desk is
  • exposed processing area (glass to see RFID sorting books)

inspiring and iconic

  • both outside and inside
  • central skylight & atrium is a ribbon manipulates light so that almost like a sundial, moving around the space
  • had artificial lighting match the sunlight

inviting, inclusive, and accessible

  • importance of welcome desk
  • cafe near the entrance (run by local person)
  • circulation is a journey of discovery
  • you can always see the other floors
  • natural light where skylight washes the wall without windows
  • stairs inviting with bleacher seating

variety of spaces and places

  • for all activities
  • future proof
  • big high spaces (living room, lobby)
  • rooms for individuals for study, people watch
  • special, multipurpose rooms
  • furniture e.g. chair with sound system
  • fireplace with living room
  • custom furniture e.g. book fort, iSpy bench with display you can peek into
  • local art. commas that you can sit on, paintings


  • bleacher seating can be for presentations
  • functions for community, not just library, e.g. performances, mayor’s inauguration

Took those lessons taken them to other libraries.

New project in Washington, DC

One of the ways to turn the city around is the library. Many replaced or new, or renovated. Discovered the value of good architecture. Brought in best from around the world.

Demographics: population has actually decreased slightly, average family income a little less than city, though a little less in poverty, but children living in poverty is higher than city. Early on made decision that children’s area

Idea was more about castle in the park. Main floor with entrance, children’s area with big window looking over the park and storytime room.

Second room set back mostly with stacks and lots of meeting rooms, teen space, study area. Walls still washed with light.

Third floor can be closed off, but also open for receptions, looks down into library, out to green roof and park.

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

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