This Public Library is located in downtown Boucherville, a town of 40,000, located in the vicinity of Montreal. Built more than 25 years ago, the municipal library needed to expand and reconfigure its existing facilities, to pursue its mission and provide services in accordance with new and emerging social, cultural and technological trends.
The project, therefore consists of a three-storey expansion (1,470 square metres) along with an indoor renovation and refitting of the existing structure (1,700 square metres). It includes an atrium, a new entrance hall, a new library promenade, a new loans counter and a complete reorganization of all the library stacks.
After an initial assessment of the library’s current context, it was the idea for a visceral connection with the wooded area in an adjoining Park that ignited the project's initial concept. In contrast to the existing building, whose introverted geometry neglected both the social and natural aspects of its surroundings, the architects adopted an open, barrier-free design intended to convey the very essence of the new centre whose essential mission is about discovery and openness to knowledge and to the world.
Photographs by Christian Perreault
The intention was to produce an expansion that is simple, open and effective, to the benefit of all library patrons. Given the opportunity to emphasize and highlight the adjacent woods, the library expansion project offers, was seen in terms as a formative gesture that integrates into the landscape and invites the visitors to come inside. Inspired by the formal logic of the existing building (four similar squares that revolve around a central core), the expansion suggests for one of these squares a shift in emphasis and an opening up to the nearby woods. This establishes new, open-ended connections between the building and its surrounding environment, redefining the heart of the library and ensuring a comprehensive unity, integrating the existing building with both the new addition and the adjacent woods.
In that sense, there are two main elements that help in the harmonious integration; an existing wooded area completely open to nature complemented by a new library promenade with a formal exterior pathway that runs through the entire site. The woods are an identifying element visible from the street and the surrounding area, heralding the presence of a cultural institution in an urban landscape.
The three floors of the new extension, in addition to reducing the actual building footprint at ground level, mean lower costs and preserve as much as possible the trees adjacent to the building. The three storeys are home to the library’s three general collections – books for children, adolescents and adults.
Taking advantage of the natural topography of the site and of the proximity of the trees, a large three-storey glass wall allows for diverse visual links between the indoor spaces and the woods. Consequently, each clientele (children, adolescents, adults and senior citizens) benefits from a distinct relationship with the vegetation, the trees and the foliage, which inspire calm, silence and rejuvenation.Directly linked to existing footpaths, the new promenade runs alongside the building. It follows the contours of the topography and directs visitors toward the new reception area and main entrance, thereby anchoring the library to its immediate context, its neighbourhood and its town.
Taking maximum advantage of the sunshine from the building’s southern exposure, the promenade organizes pedestrian access and traffic throughout the site. It serves as an efficient physical and visual link connecting the various component elements – the main entrance, the multipurpose room and adjacent terrace, the service entrance, the two parking lots, the woods and the river and two nearby roads, as well as the residential sector, two parks and Boucherville’s old historic centre.
In response to the introverted organization and the constrictions of the existing indoor space, the architects opted for an open spatial organization that is centred round the new lobby. With its loans counter and its atrium, it is the veritable heart of the project. Positioned between the old and the new and extended vertically via the atrium, the lobby is a central locus that allows for quick, clear identification of the main sectors of the library.
The new reception area sets the tone, facilitating orientation and serving as a point of reference. As soon as visitors enter the building, they are literally plunged into the imaginary world of children. Located just below the entrance, the children’s sector offers a direct view of the woods from the lobby and the reception counter, and from the library sections located in the existing structure. Visible throughout the atrium, an access ramp serves as a continuation of the lobby and leads to the children’s section, the main staircase and the elevator. It is a veritable architectural promenade that serves both as a transition between the various sectors and as a place to discover the entire library. These comings and goings offer other visual perspectives of park, thereby enriching the journey from one floor to the next.
The various sectors (periodicals, audiovisual materials, children’s/adolescent/adult sections) benefit from new reading areas that have a visual connection to the adjacent woods. The history, genealogy, documentary and reference sectors are located in the existing building near the loans counter and information desk. The administrative sector is located nearby, ensuring optimum supervision and control.
The main lobby, the multipurpose room, the technical services and the administrative offices have all been relocated so that they have a direct connection to the library promenade. Relocated to the front of the building, the reception and library service areas will become intermediary spaces that make the vital connection between reading and urban life.
Reflecting its educational vocation, the new library’s use of wood, its big open spaces with views of the outdoor landscape and its geothermal heating system convey respect for the environment. In addition to reducing costs, the use of wood (untreated natural cedar) and conventional planks-and-strips siding ensures a smooth transition from the existing wood-and-brick building.
Plans - Sections - Elevations