THE MAKING OF A GREAT PUBLIC LIBRARY

Architect Craig Dykers of Snøhetta (left) and Calgary Public Library CEO Bill Ptacek.

Architect Craig Dykers of Snøhetta (left) and Calgary Public Library CEO Bill Ptacek.

On April 8, Calgarians were invited to step behind the scenes to get a closer look at the design, construction and experience of their New Central Library. The third instalment of CMLC’s popular Placemakers speaker series – entitled The Making of a Great Public Library – was a sold-out event at the John Dutton Theatre, featuring an all-star panel of visionaries and builders.

“The encapsulation itself could have been a unique work of art on its own. We could have left it as it was and people would look at it and say ‘wow, that’s interesting.’”

Craig Dykers, architect and co-founder, Snøhetta

Keynote speaker Craig Dykers – architect and co-founder of Snøhetta, the multi-award-winning firm that, along with Calgary’s DIALOG, designed the NCL – described the critical role that libraries have played since antiquity. Portraying great libraries as bridges, he reminded the audience that libraries have always been places that connect people and society, and that the NCL is uniquely positioned (quite literally) to connect Calgarians.

Dykers explained how the NCL’s challenging site was the driving force behind the library’s unique design. Were it not for the restricted space bisected by a curving LRT line upon which the library had to be built, the architecturally stunning building may have ended up looking very different, perhaps more like a square box. He speculated on the splendour of the completed build and on the individual moments that punctuated the complex construction process, such as his realization of the unique beauty of the encapsulated LRT line. “The encapsulation itself could have been a unique work of art on its own,” he said. “We could have left it as it was and people would look at it and say ‘wow, that’s interesting.’”

Referencing the deep connection that NCL’s design has to Calgary’s unique geography, Dykers described how chinook arches, snowdrifts and “a landscape that goes from flat to vertical in 60 seconds or less” inspired its design.

Dykers was joined by key people intimately connected to the process of making Calgary’s New Central Library a page-turning reality. Calgary Public Library’s CEO Bill Ptacek illustrated the ways in which the fully funded construction of NCL has freed up resources to enable new programming (like the THINK BIG series and the Junior JUNOs) throughout the current library system. Stuart Olson’s Project Manager, Carson Kotnyek, described the delicate intricacies – including the diversion of 75% of construction waste away from landfills and the construction of a three-storey model to test the performance of the building’s iconic façade – that are part of keeping such a complex project on schedule, on budget and sustainable. CMLC’s VP of Projects Kate Thompson, talked about the background infrastructure – streetscapes and bridges and heritage buildings – that defines East Village and how NCL will enhance access, connections and public spaces.