The Bloor/Gladstone Library / RDH Architects

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The Bloor/Gladstone Branch library project is a renovation and addition to a listed heritage library in downtown Toronto. The architects were commissioned to design for an additional 12,000 sqf, bringing the collection and facilities to a level consistent with that of a Toronto District Library. The final design includes major renovations to the existing building as well as the construction of an addition.

Architect: RDH Architects Inc.
Location: 1101 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario,
Project Team: Bob Goyeche (partner, RDH Architects Inc.), Tyler Sharp (associate, project designer, RDH Architects Inc.), Gerry Shoalts (partner, Shoalts and Zaback Architects Ltd.), Graham Gavine (project manager, RDH Architects Inc.), Sanjoy Pal, Scott Wilson, Marnie Williams, Amir Kafifar.
Associate Architect: Shoalts and Zaback Architects Ltd.
Heritage Architect: ERA Architects Inc.
Landscape Architect: NAK Design
Structural Engineers: Halsall Associates Ltd.
Mechanical / Electrical Engineering: Jain Associates Ltd.
Civil Engineers: Valdor Engineering Inc.
Contractor: Pre-Eng Contracting Ltd.
Project Area: 12,000 sqf
Project Year: 2009
Photographs: Courtesy of RDH Architects

Courtesy of RDH Architects

The original u-shaped plan features a central hall flanked by two symmetrical, reading rooms. These spaces are elevated approximately six feet above sidewalk grade. To honour the heritage building, the main entry remains in its original location. In order to achieve a fully barrier free institution, the central hall floor slab has been dropped to the lowest level. As a result, the public now enters into a transformed, triple high atrium space from a lower level plaza two feet below sidewalk grade. To access this plaza, one can either descend four steps or walk along one of two barrier free, sloped walkways to the east and west of the main entry.


The new addition is conceived as having two fundamental elements: a raised glass pavilion and a stone base. The limestone base is an extension of the existing terra cotta podium. This element facilitates a strong compositional connection to the heritage structure and helps to organize and control programmatic elements on site. The addition is a transparent, contemporary counterpoint to the existing heritage structure. A pavilion in constant dialogue with its surroundings, a place to read, to view the city and to be seen involved in the programs offered within.


Throughout the library, conscious attention was paid to the juxtaposition of old and new material systems. The existing building employs the use of heavy masonry structure and historic plaster detailing. New insertions are constructed primarily of exposed steel structure, aluminum support and tempered glass. The aesthetic of the detailing is decidedly quiet in an attempt to reinforce and display the historic building and the library program itself.

Courtesy of RDH Architects

A conceptual approach of visibility was applied to the library design with the intent to offer the public and staff clear site lines throughout the building. To achieve this, major incisions were made into the fabric of the existing masonry building and new partition walls have been constructed primarily of tempered glass. Further to this, the use of abundant functioning, atrium space creates vertical and diagonal views throughout the facility. The overall intent of this approach is to communicate the culture of the library to the staff, the users and the public at large.

Courtesy of RDH Architects

Sustainable initiatives include updated energy efficient mechanical systems and lighting throughout, two green roof systems, a reduction in city storm water demand, permeable paving along exit paths, significant planting of domestic shrubs, grasses and 19 new trees, the use of low v.o.c. materials and large extents of energy efficient glazing for an abundance of natural light throughout.

Courtesy of RDH Architects

This project transforms a tired heritage library into a functioning, interactive, contemporary institution. Since its opening in 2009, the Bloor/Gladstone Branch has met with public approval and praise and circulation has more then doubled. The level of finish, detail and design resolution elevates the community library to a level commensurate with other significant cultural institutions, a level which illustrates the fundamental importance of access to information in the world’s largest library system, the Toronto Public Library.

Courtesy of RDH Architects
Courtesy of RDH Architects
Courtesy of RDH Architects

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Cite: "The Bloor/Gladstone Library / RDH Architects" 09 May 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 29 May 2015. <>
  • R.Aller

    I wish the exterior was as interesting as the interior…It seems to be just the right place to be in, but it’s sad that it isn’t inviting.
    It seems to be more of an element of surprise then anything else.

  • Tom

    Beautiful project.
    Elegant, pure and certainly inviting, inside and out.
    I wish this was my library.