Albion District Library

Architect: Perkins+Will

Owner: Albion Public Library

Location: Toronto

Project site: Previously developed land

Building program type(s): Public Assembly – Library

One of the busiest libraries in Toronto, the Albion District Library serves a broad range of services to a diverse demographic, including many recent immigrants. Extensive community consultation shaped the design in fundamental ways, including the decision not to renovate and expand an existing library building, which would require a closure of nearly two years. Instead, our team proposed building a new library on the adjacent parking lot site, allowing the existing library to remain open through construction. The importance of the library as a community hub inspired the central architectural concept of an enclosed garden.

"This project clearly demonstrates the immediate positive impact of good design. A district library that serves a diverse and newly-immigrant community, the library has a dramatically increased visitorship (with a notable 75 percent increase for teenagers) over the old facility." ~ Jury statement

The Urban Living Room: Resembles an informal extension of the home, providing an adaptable space for cultural events, concerts and readings, from spoken word to hip-hop battles. Image: Doublespace Photography

Located in Toronto’s Rexdale neighborhood at the northwest edge of the city, Albion Library is one of Toronto’s most well used public libraries. As well as providing standard lending services, Albion is a critical social resource for the neighborhoods diverse and high-needs community. When community consultations revealed the vital function, the library plays in this high needs neighborhood, plans to renovate/expand the existing branch were abandoned in favor of a new build on the adjacent parking lot permitting uninterrupted service. The community’s desire for a safe urban oasis inspired the concept of a walled garden defined at its perimeter by a polychrome screen of terracotta louvers. The richly textured façade lifts at the corners articulating the entry and key program areas. An undulating timber roof slopes to three courtyards that bring light, color and nature into the heart of the square plan. Albion Library used community input to shape an architectural concept that is suited to a diverse, high needs population. The universal language of a garden was utilized to draw people together from diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. While the plan is visually open and physically accessible, zoning by a series of courtyards creates discrete environments. Identity and territory within an open and welcoming framework echoes a vison of Canadian society for newcomers. Media suites and maker spaces engage patrons in creating content and self-expression while spaces such as the urban living room allow a forum for broader cultural expression.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2015

Year of substantial project completion: 2015

Gross conditioned floor area: 29,000 sq ft

Gross unconditioned floor area: 0 sq ft

Number of stories: 1

Project Climate Zone: CWEC Toronto Climate Zone - Ontario Region A

Annual hours of operation: 3,500

Site area: 112,290 sq ft

Project site context/setting: suburban

Cost of construction, excluding furnishing: $11.8 million

Number of residents, occupants, visitors: 82,000

Project Team

Engineer - Civil: WSP

Engineer - MEP: Hidi Rae (M,P), Mulvey Bananni (E)

Engineer - Structural: Blackwell Engineering

General Contractor: Acquicon Construction Ltd.

Landscape Architect: DTAH


Michelle Addington, Dean, School of Architecture, The University of Texas Austin, Austin, Texas

Jennifer Devlin-Herbert, FAIA, EHDD. San Francisco

Kevin Schorn, AIA, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, New York

Julie V. Snow, FAIA, Snow Kreilich, Minneapolis

M. Susan Ubbelohde, LOISOS + UBBELOHDE, Alameda, California

Jury comments

This project clearly demonstrates the immediate positive impact of good design. A district library that serves a diverse and newly-immigrant community, the library has a dramatically increased visitorship (with a notable 75 percent increase for teenagers) over the old facility.

The team took a civic approach, maintaining the existing library to serve the community while building the new one adjacent to it. The existing library site was then converted into a multi-use urban plaza that supports community markets and events to further augment the positive impact of the project on the area. This project has a predicted energy use reduction of 40 percent over the national average for this building type and climate while providing thermally comfortable, well daylit, and joyful spaces for the occupants. This library is a praiseworthy example of design excellence.

Perhaps the most compelling story of the Albion District Library is its performance within a diverse and high-need community. The library acts as a walled garden, providing a safe-yet-inclusive, welcoming presence.

Image credits

04 Exterior at Dusk

Doublespace Photography

05 Service Desk.JPG

Doublespace Photography

08 Program Room and Urban Living Room

Doublespace Photography

11 Book Area

Doublespace Photography

13 Childrens Area

Doublespace Photography

16 Detail

Doublespace Photography

18 Urban Living Room and Court

Doublespace Photography

10 Childerens Area at Dusk

Doublespace Photography