Calgary Central Library

Architect: Snøhetta and DIALOG

Owner: Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC)

Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

On a former brownfield infill site in rapidly expanding Calgary, this new library plays a vital role and can accommodate more than twice as many annual visitors as the facility it replaced. 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.

“Thoughtful, integrated and exemplary design that artfully weaves together the collective vision and values of design, client, community and sustainability….a true reflection of Calgary as well as this AIA Honors Award.” - Jury comment

A light rail line crosses the site, following a curved path from above to below ground and serving as a dividing line between two neighborhoods. As a 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, it ranks among the largest freeform timber shells in the world.

Inside, the program is organized on a spectrum ranging from fun to serious, and the library’s more engaging public activities are featured on the ground floor while quieter study areas can be found above. At street level, multi-purpose 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 re-energized a spirit of culture, learning, and community in Calgary.

"Comprehensive application  of current sustainability principles. [This project is] smart and friendly urban insertion." - Jury comment

Additional information

Consultant: IT/AV: MacSquared System Design Group Inc; Fire and Life Safety: Jensen-Hughes/Sereca Fire Consulting; Acoustics: FF&A Acoustics; Building Envelope and Waterproofing: Building Envelope Engineering Inc.

Engineer - Civil: Parsons

Engineer - MEP: DIALOG

Engineer - Structural: Entuitive

General Contractor: Stuart Olson

Landscape Architect: Snøhetta


Samuel M. Miller, FAIA (Chair), LMN, Seattle, Washington

Merrill Elam, AIA, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Atlanta, Georgia

Rebecca Sharkey, AIA, EHDD, San Francisco, California

Dale Frens, AIA, patterhn ives, llc, West Chester, Pennsylvania

Michael Johns, FAIA, NOMA, Mdesigns + MWJ Consulting LLC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Michelle Acosta, AIA, SmithGroup, Phoenix, Arizona

Trinity Simons, Mayor's Institute on City Design, Washington, District of Columbia

Kevin Alter, Assoc. AIA, Alterstudio Architecture, Austin, Texas

Caleb Bertels, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Image credits

Calgary Central Library-03

Michael Grimm

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Michael Grimm

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Michael Grimm

Calgary Central Library-06

Michael Grimm

Calgary Central Library-07

Michael Grimm