As technology continues to become ubiquitous, public spaces such as libraries are serving not only as repositories of information, but also places where the community can access the latest technological tools. In so doing, libraries are becoming ever-more valuable resources to the community—particularly those who are underserved—as was the case with the Albion Library in Toronto, designed by Perkins+Will.
As one of the city’s busiest public libraries serving as the social epicenter for Toronto’s Rexdale suburb, the design team understood that closing down the library during construction was not an option. Instead, Perkins+Will chose to erect a new facility in the adjacent, underutilized parking lot, allowing branch operations to continue.
“In the case of the Albion library, it has been described as a ‘neighborhood improvement area’ by the City of Toronto, meaning that it is a lower-income area where there are a lot of new immigrants to Canada, specifically refugees,” said Andrew Frontini, LEED AP BD+C, design director and principal for Perkins+Will’s Toronto office. “So these are people who are arriving in Canada … for the first time, and where they’re coming from, they potentially didn’t have access to this technology. Certainly, when they arrive here they’re just starting their lives over, so the provision of technology in this case is very important because a lot of the members of the community, the demographics, don’t have access to the kind of technology that we take for granted.”
As a result, Albion Library’s design embodies a community-driven narrative resulting from a series of consultations that represented a major shift from the design team’s original ideations. “The goal was originally to renovate the existing building, and that’s not what happened,” Frontini recalled. “The public really spoke with a pretty unified voice saying, ‘We don’t want you to renovate our library because that means you’re going to close it for two years, and it’s such a vital and important service for a variety of reasons.’” Noting that some members of the community utilized the library’s services to run their businesses, for example, Perkins+Will essentially had to “go back to the drawing board,” as Frontini noted—which proved to be a pivotal moment for the design direction of the entire project.
“What was originally a big challenge turned out to be the inspiration for a whole new approach to the site, and it inspired the architectural idea of a library as a kind of oasis or garden or refuge from the urban condition,” Frontini explained. “That inspired the colorful perimeter enclosure and these courtyards that are inserted into the middle of the plan of the building.”
Reminiscent of a walled garden, the dynamic façade gives the illusion of a front porch trellis—its privacy veil injecting color into the street. Punctuated by courtyard gardens and interior pavilions, Albion Library’s 29,000-square-foot footprint is a pure square. A screen of polychrome terracotta tiles in bright, unexpected colors defines the perimeter. Contrasting the monotone asphalt that surrounds the site, the form offers a respite from the busy arterial context of Albion Road.
Stepping inside, transparency fosters community. Strategically placed glass walls separate meeting rooms, while low visual barriers create defined areas for activity and diverse programming. Every space is visibly accessible yet connected to the library’s circulation hub.
Mirroring the community’s evolving needs, Perkins+Will’s design prioritizes spaces for collaboration and creation. 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. The library’s Innovation Studio Lab contributes to cultural production and houses a myriad of STEM programming, empowering the youth to enhance their technical skills in coding, circuit building, and 3D Printing.
Multigenerational design is harnessed through the facility’s three courtyard gardens—dedicated to children, teens, and adults. Weaving nature and natural light deep into the library’s interiors, spaces allow for quiet contemplation and study while also providing secure zones for exterior programming.
Overall, the building houses a wide range of services that goes beyond traditional book lending to include cultural orientation, social integration, employment skills, and access to technology and knowledge, naturally.
The perimeter is defined by a screen of polychrome terracotta tiles in bright, unexpected colors selected for their durability and ability to be cleaned (vandal-proof).
Graphic Wall Covering
“The Long Passage Towards Night” by Hashimoto is a special wallcovering mural from Maharam’s Digital Projects collection that offers a dramatic focal point for visitors at the reception desk.
White oak was specified throughout the library, including the butcher-block laptop bars, wood doors, and frames, among other places.
Neutral dark gray and black carpet tiles from Interface were chosen to mitigate noise as well as to ease replacement if they become damaged or stained.
Structural wood beams and planks at the ceiling plane add warmth to the space and contribute to the library’s timeless design aesthetic.
The expansive exterior windows offer pedestrians views inside, showcasing programming and drawing users into the space while bringing daylight into the interior.
To ensure a timeless design, wood was chosen as the primary material expression for the space.
Sustainable aluminum panels from a Canadian supplier were selected as part of a responsible material sourcing plan.
White oak was also used for library display shelving, in addition to area walls and partitions.
ceramic + porcelain tile
Canadian tile manufacturer Centura was selected for high-traffic areas and bathrooms for its cleanability and durability.
Photography by Doublespace