- Project Team:Shirley Blumberg, Andrew Dyke, Richard Unterthiner, Sanaz Shirshekar, Lynn Pilon, Dave Smythe, David Poloway, Carolyn Lee, Rachel Cyr
- Architect In Charge:KPMB Architects
Text description provided by the architects. The Toronto Public Library system is the largest in North America and one of the most used per capita in the world. The new Fort York Branch has become an important community centre in a highly diverse, rapidly evolving neighbourhood in downtown Toronto.
Unique Heritage Context
The building sits on what was once the original forested shoreline of Lake Ontario at the mouth of Garrison Creek. The library building is designed to allow pedestrian access from Fort York Boulevard to the south, to the future park to the north. This pedestrian pathway system will connect under the Bathurst Street Bridge to the historic fort and its grounds. The angular trapezoidal geometry of the pavilion building references the ramparts of the fort, and the extensive use of wood in the interior of the building recalls the old wooden cribbing found buried on site during the archaeological survey.
Fort York now finds itself buried in today’s urban fabric. The second floor of the library functions as an extraordinary viewing platform to the heritage site, the city and the lake.
The Urban Living Room
In order to fulfill the client’s mandate and vision to be the social heart of the neighbourhood - to provide a resource for not only books and CD’s, but also community programs, classes, digital studios and study spaces, and to be the first stop for new immigrants – the functional layout of the building had to provide a high level of flexibility for future program development. Durability and ease of maintenance were also important criteria as the building is constantly in heavy use.
The building has accommodated the unanticipated high number of users well because of the robustness and generosity of its public spaces. And the modest construction budget imposed a discipline of strategic use of warm materials - such as the wood – and bright primary colours to animate the interior.
Given the site’s unique history, the clients suggested using Margaret Atwood’s poetry collection, The Journals of Susanna Moodie as a theme for integrated art. Poetry excerpts are featured on the exterior of the building, while The Planters drawing by Charles Pachter is reproduced on the perforated metal fins on the west façade along Bathurst Street. The image is visible from the interior and casts extraordinary patterns of shadow and light at different times of the day. The fins at the second level provide sun protection during the day and transparency into the library at dusk.
The selection of the site at the corner of Bathurst Street and Fort York Boulevard was an important step in the overall success of this project. In order to contribute to street animation and encourage use of nearby public transit, there is no public parking provided on site. A dedicated green roof makes up 52% of the total area. The exterior fins mitigate heat gain and operable windows allow for natural cross-ventilation and passive cooling in the shoulder seasons and motorized interior blinds control direct sunlight and heat gain.