Calgary's New Central Library

Architect: Snøhetta and Dialog

Owner: Calgary Municipal Land Corporation

Location: Calgary, Alberta

On a former brownfield infill site in rapidly expanding Calgary, this new library can accommodate more than twice as many annual visitors as the previous facility. Fitting seamlessly into the complex urban condition surrounding it, the library boasts a generous 75,000 square feet of entry plaza and outdoor amphitheater that allows its lively programming to spill outside.

The library is wrapped in a striking triple-glazed façade composed of a modular, hexagonal pattern that echoes the library’s efforts to welcome all visitors. Variations of the pattern are scattered across the building’s curved surface in alternating patterns of fritted glass and aluminum, giving rise to shapes that evoke familiar forms. The whole building is encased in the same pattern, allowing every side to operate as the “front” of the library, and the same visual vocabulary plays a significant role in the library’s new visual identity and wayfinding inside.

A light-rail line crosses the site, following a curved path from above to below ground, which had served as a dividing line between two neighborhoods. In response, the team lifted the main entry over the encapsulated train line, while gently terraced slopes rise up to the heart of the building. The geometry of the façade was carved away, revealing an expansive wood archway that warmly greets visitors and references Chinook cloud arches that are common to the region. Made entirely from planks of western red cedar from British Columbia, the library ranks among the largest freeform timber shells in the world.

Inside, the program is organized on a spectrum from fun to serious. The library’s more engaging public activities are featured on the ground floor, while quieter study areas are found above. At street level, multipurpose rooms ring the building to enhance connectivity with the outside, while the mezzanine hosts the children’s library and its numerous playhouses.

A bastion of light and activity, this new library has reenergized a spirit of culture, learning, and community in Calgary.

Additional information

Design Architect: Snøhetta

Architect of Record: DIALOG

Engineer - Structural: Entuitive

Engineer - Electrical and Lighting: SMP Engineering

Engineer - Mechanical: DIALOG

Engineer - Civil: Parsons

IT/AV: McSquared System Design Group Inc.

Consultant - Fire and Life Safety: Jensen-Hughes/Sereca Fire Consulting

Consultant - Acoustics: FF&A Acoustics

Consultant - Building Envelope and Waterproofing: Building Envelope Engineering Inc.

General Contractor: Stuart Olson

Landscape Architect: Snøhetta

Curtain wall and Exterior Envelope Design Assist, Fabrication, and Installation: Ferguson Corporation

Exterior Wood Soffit Fabrication and Installation: StructureCraft

Atrium and Interior Woodwork Fabrication and Installation: Executive Millwork

High-Slag Concrete Mix Design Supply, Precast Fabrication and Installation: LaFarge

Concrete Formwork: Stuart Olson

Steel Trusses and Skylight Structure, Miscellaneous Metals: Norfab


Charles A. Higueras, FAIA (Chair), San Francisco Public Works, San Francisco, California

Becca Cavell, FAIA, Bora Architects, Portland, Oregon

Brian Chase, Director, Normal Public Library, Normal, Illinois

Jill Friedmann, Assistant Dean, Cline Library, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona

Clem Guthro, Orange County, California

Charles Wray, AIA, Quinn Evans, Richmond, Virginia

Image credits

Calgary's new Central Library-07

Michael Grimm

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Michael Grimm

Calgary's new Central Library-04

Michael Grimm

Calgary's new Central Library-05

Michael Grimm

Calgary's new Central Library-06

Michael Grimm