Text description provided by the architects. The new Orillia Public Library and Market Square dramatically refresh downtown Orillia.The library’s fritted glass facade shimmers in the sunlight—a delicate counterpoint to the weighty red brick piers of the adjacent, Victorian Opera House. The library’s windows, decorated with syncopated, vertical bands of foliage, add surprising decoration to the otherwise clean and contemporary building. This ornamentation stems from the town council’s desire, as is typical of many regional towns with a proud history, to construct a new building that would compliment its nineteenth and early twentieth century neighbours.
Determined to respond to their client’s desires, but to also create a building that would communicate the here and now, the architects drew inspiration from the intricate decorative motifs of the book spines, frontispieces and printed borders in Orillia Public Library’s rare book collection. Satisfying the sticklers for history, they developed six graceful motifs based on Victorian typographic borders. The ceramic ink, or ‘frit’, was applied directly to the glass panels by sending the architect’s digital files to a large-scale ink jet printer. The panels were then annealed to permanently fuse the graphic to the glass. These graphics were integrated into alternating glass bays within the curtain wall of the building’s courtyard-facing façade. Inside the building the architects continued the theme, for example applying the motifs to glass balustrades and to a privacy screen behind the checkout counter. Outside, the library’s ribbon of ornate glass is complemented by simple expanses of Spanish terracotta tile, architectural concrete and Ontario limestone that echo the materiality of the Opera House and the surrounding streetscape.
This historically sensitive composition introduces a lively and graceful presence to a part of Orillia that had become forlorn with the movement of retail to big box stores to the town’s outer limits. By day sunlight filters through the foliage patterns, creating a lively internal experience of ever-changing texture. At night the crystalline portion casts a warm glow on the sleepy town.
The windows not only draw on the history and purpose of the place, they also underscore the technical advancements of the day: the ceramic frit technology that was used to apply the pattern to the glass is just as innovative today as machined books were to the Victorian era.
The library’s two-storey, L-shaped building works with the Opera House to frame a new public courtyard where none previously existed. The sloping site defines a series of spaces including areas designed to accommodate the popular farmers’ market, the crowds of people who gather after concerts, and a place for outdoor performances, festivals and community events – all now supported by facilities within the library. In both appearance and function, the building is full of pride, joining Orillia’s past with its modern-day municipal life.