The modern post-secondary library is an evolving space, says Sydney Browne, principal, Diamond Schmitt Architects. In a way, she says, it’s like a test lab for new teaching layouts, before they’re rolled out to the rest of an academic institution’s facilities.
This is but one of the lessons from Browne’s latest work on libraries, which notably includes the dramatic $27-million redesign of Carleton University’s MacOdrum Library in Ottawa. The Ontario Library Association (OLA) recognized the project, a 35,000-square-foot renovation and 74,000-square-foot expansion, with a 2015 Library Building Award on July 7.
Every three years, the OLA program acknowledges architectural and design transformation in libraries. MacOdrum was the only academic facility among this year’s four award recipients.
Funded in part by Carleton and in part by the Ontario government, the project was meant to accommodate growth in the university’s student population in an up-to-date learning environment.
MacOdrum was one of the first buildings constructed on Carleton’s campus quad. In its first iteration, said Browne, the 1960s-era facility featured modernist curtain wall. The original design was closer to today’s architecture than its next iteration, but the material lacked today’s energy efficiency performance.
The facility’s next iteration addressed these energy efficiency shortcomings with an insulated panel system, but the system gave the building a grim exterior which limited daylight views. Its punch-out windows read as perforations on a blank piece of paper.
Diamond Schmitt, in joint venture with Edward J. Cuhaci and Associates Architects, returned the facility to its original curtain wall roots, but with modern materials that also delivered energy efficiency.
This fulfilled one of Browne’s two focuses for the design: opening up the facility to take advantage of daylight and views to the nearby Rideau Canal. Her other focus was to create a range of great student spaces.
“We sought to renew MacOdrum’s role to provide students with a variety of facilities required for today’s interdisciplinary and digitally driven academic programs,” she said.
The expansion plans flowed from a broader 2004 campus master planning study, Browne explained. Before the facility’s overhaul came smaller changes. Among those changes were moving some of the library’s collection into a new compact storage facility and centralizing student services such as computing, literacy and research support programs in a learning commons.
“They were really trying to seize the opportunities that come with the transition to a more digitally based collection,” she said, “so they were looking to reorganize the services they offered, the way they positioned their collections within the building, and the kinds of spaces that they had set up for students.”
Of the collections that remained in the library, the least frequently accessed ones were condensed in compact shelving situated on the lowest floor. From there, the university moved through the facility’s spaces, creating more student and teaching areas, which were outfitted with new technologies.
That’s when the university issued a request for proposals for the expansion and renovation, which is also when Diamond Schmitt Architects joined their design forces with the local construction experience of Edward J. Cuhaci and Associates Architects.
“At the scale of the campus, the goal really was to make the library more open and accessible, and to take advantage of its location on the main quad of the campus,” said Browne.
From the campus quad, a mahogany ribbon of spiral staircase is visible through the facility’s again transparent façade. The staircase is designed to increase the use of the facility’s upper floors, said the architect, which were before underserved by elevators and stairs buried in its core.
Some of the library’s novel areas are an interactive study room with touch-screen monitors and a video gaming lab. Other new features are a 3D printer — fast becoming a staple in modern libraries, said Browne — and treadmill desks that allow students to combine homework and workouts.
“The teaching spaces that are set up with multiple projectors allow for movement of furniture, allow students to connect into the system to project their own material and share their own material,” said Browne. “I think that will absolutely be common in quite a short period of time.”
With few exceptions, MacOdrum stayed open for the duration of construction. The project was staged to maintain barrier-free pathways, which was important to Carleton, said Browne, as the university prides itself on its accessibility. The overhaul was completed in December 2013.
“The student experience has been completely transformed by our library redesign,” said Wayne Jones, university librarian, Carleton University. “It’s an honour to see the results recognized by the Ontario Library Association.”
Rounding out this year’s OLA award recipients were Kitchener Public Library’s Central Branch (LGA Architectural Partners), Ottawa Public Library’s Beaverbrook Branch (Moriyama & Teshima Architects) and Toronto Public Library’s Mount Dennis Branch (G. Bruce Stratton Architects).
Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.