CMLC construction crews begin installing 125,000 pounds of wooden soffits   

Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) – lead developer of Calgary’s New Central Library in the re-emerging neighbourhood of East Village – is celebrating yet another significant step forward in the construction of the library, with construction proceeding on schedule for the planned Grand Opening in fall 2018. 

“Ever since our prime architectural team of Snøhetta and DIALOG began to share its designs for the New Central Library, we’ve been fully confident that the facility will be world-class in every regard,” says Lyle Edwards, Chairman of CMLC’s Board of Directors. “With each new milestone in the library building’s construction program, we see ever more clearly just how dynamic and dramatic the New Central Library will be – a landmark building that every Calgarian can be proud of.”

Last week, CMLC’s construction crews began installing another prominent feature of the new library’s inspiring design: the curved wooden soffit panels that form the building’s archway. 
“The library building rises up over an open passageway at the heart of the site, creating both a visual connection and a pedestrian connection between East Village to the east and Calgary’s downtown core to the west,” explains Kate Thompson, VP Projects, CMLC. “Framed by wood-clad arches that reference the Chinook arch cloud formations so common to southern Alberta, the passageway is opening up an exciting new outdoor civic space within the city.”

Fabricated by StructureCraft, a timber design and construction company located in Delta, BC, the wood soffit makes up part of the ‘skin’ of the building – an architecturally striking feature of curved western red cedar battens flowing along the ceiling and down to the walls of the open passageway.

While every material chosen for the library contributes to the building’s overall aesthetic, each also has a specific function that goes far beyond its looks. The New Central Library’s western red cedar, which has been harvested from sustainably managed forests in British Columbia, is lightweight and naturally resistant to decay, making it perfect for exposed outdoor applications like the library’s archway.

Much like a ship’s hull, the cedar planks are secured to a Douglas fir framework, constructed and delivered in manageable panels. The panels are being suspended from the library structure with steel rods and cables. The New Central Library’s design calls for approximately 170 individual panels weighing, on average, 750 pounds (340 kilograms) each. That adds up to more than 125,000 lb (57,000 kg) of wood!

“A feature such as this wooden soffit necessitates very careful attention to detail,” says Jean-Baptiste Bachmann, Project Manager, StructureCraft Builders Inc. “When you consider the extreme weather conditions the wood will have to endure, the fine knife-edge interface with the glass façade and the fact that the soffit is prefabricated in panels that need to fit perfectly together on site, you have a considerable challenge. A dimensionally complex project like this has depended on close coordination between the design and fabrication teams.”

British Columbia's official tree, the western red cedar has been called “the cornerstone of Northwest Coast aboriginal culture,” as it has great spiritual significance. Coastal people used all parts of the tree. They used the wood for dugout canoes, house planks, bentwood boxes, masks and tools such as arrow shafts and paddles. From the inner bark they made rope, clothing, and baskets, while the long arching branches were twisted into rope and baskets. It was also used for many medicines.