Drawing inspiration from a ravine tucked away in the foliage of its site, Capilano Library makes an ecological argument as it serves a suburban prairie neighborhood of Edmonton. Cut off from the North Saskatchewan River by the intense urbanization of Canada in the 1960s, the ravine is a remnant of the riparian ecosystem that was once a distinguishing characteristic of the region. Bracketed by the ravine and a residential street, the site is both accessible to the community and connected to nature, making it an ideal host for a library.
The team organized the 12,000-square-foot program into three parallel zones oriented along the site’s north-south axis. The building is capped with a continuous folded wood roof that runs the entirety of the library’s 250 feet, its peaks corresponding to each zone below. The roof’s upper and lower planes are optimized for daylight, acoustics, and structure and present a captivating profile at both ends of the library. To complement the site’s deciduous backdrop, the library is wrapped in black aluminum and natural wood.
"By acknowledging the ravine, the library provides visitors and staff with a place of reverence for knowledge and nature while creating a tranquil edge to its community." Jury comment
Inside, each zone responds directly to scale, natural light, and discrete views. The western zone is reflective of the surrounding neighborhood and includes an edge of quiet support spaces along the residential street, while the eastern zone features varied seating and a 180-foot window with views of the ravine. The middle is characterized by a top-lit loftiness and houses the library’s stacks and spaces for its staff and community use. At the library’s western end, wood-screened clerestories allow daylight to flood the space. As the sun moves throughout the day, light passes through the screens and casts delicate patterns of light and shadow across the interior spaces. Coupled with the surrounding landscape, the constantly shifting lighting conditions help make the library an oasis of learning and community.
As part of the project’s sighting strategy, the design team was a vocal advocate for the restoration of the landscape as a way to connect the ravine to its larger ecosystem. The city embraced that ideal, reintroducing drought-tolerant native species to areas that were previously mown grass. Various sizes of trembling aspen reference the region’s dominant tree species and, with no planned maintenance, they will eventually present a natural interface with the ravine.