To quote the Flight of the Conchords, architect Stephen Teeple has got hurt feelings, he’s got hurt feelings.
He’s read the social-media posts and the media musings that have been critical about how the Stanley A. Milner library renovation looks like from the outside. He’s heard “Bibliotank” and “Think Tank” to describe the gun-metal blue exterior, angular windows and brutalist shape of the city’s central library. He’s also heard, over and over, about how nice the new central libraries in Halifax and Calgary are.
When he spoke Tuesday during a media tour of the new library, which opens to the public Thursday, he brushed off the criticism as if he was Wayne Gretzky being told a 200-point season was only OK. (We featured a sneak peek of the new library back in January)
He said that Edmonton’s renovated library was best of the new Canadian central libraries. He pointed out that the stretched design of the building was to show how the library reaches out to the street and it “welcomes you in”. The atrium opens up to a massive digital wall and then offers views of the multiple levels, to show visitors just how many options they have to choose from.
“I wouldn’t change a thing.” Teeple enthused. “It has a strong directionality to bring you into a library.”
And he said, as the years pass, the criticism will turn to adoration.
“People will get used to how dynamic it is,” Teeple said. “It will be loved.”
It’s also, gulp, been upgraded to… better resist earthquakes? In Edmonton? According to Natural Resources Canada, the seismic hazard for this city is “low.” Still, Teeple said that a lot of work, and dollars, had to go to reinforcing the library’s structure.
“Edmonton is in a higher seismic zone than it (the library) was originally designed for. It didn’t meet code for seismic collapse… you can come here and be safe.”
So, when the big shaker comes, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Pilar Martinez, CEO of the Edmonton Public Library, said the city granted $100 million to EPL for renovations of multiple branches. She said that, due to COVID, while many staff who had been laid off have been brought back, there still are 130-plus off work, system-wide. (NOTE: The writer of this piece is married to an EPL employee).
She said those who come for opening day will be “incredibly surprised and delighted” at what the library has to offer.
So, what will they see?
The Wall, a giant screen that greets visitors as they enter, is far more than decor. At the base of it are 18 panels that are, essentially, touchscreens. If a visitor is viewing the virtual aquarium, touching the screen can allow that person to access information about specific fish or coral. It’s meant to be an interactive experience, and it needs a dozen computers in order to run.
The children’s area is three times larger than the old central library. A highlight is Ricardo Copado’s mural, made up of 145 elements of fantastical whimsy, including a giant lobster wedged in a house and, my favourite, a giant monster blue jay ripping a streetcar off the High Level Bridge.
“I wanted to make people feel like they are standing in front of a children’s book,” said Copado.
Also, there’s a kid’s makerspace on the main floor, and the Thunderbird Lodge, an enclosed gathering space designed with Cree tradition in mind. White poplar, sacred to the Cree, is the wood of choice in this circular room. Pillows resemble giant stones, which are found in sweat lodges. And, the room has a modern H-VAC system that allows for smudging ceremonies without getting fire marshals all antsy. Martinez said the library also spent $300,000 on Indigenous art, most of it from artists who live within the Treaty 6 area.
Upstairs, you will find a makerspace with three recording studios, a black-box studio, music stations, a fashion studio and a place to, well, make your own T-shirts. Going through it, the 3D printers kinda seem, well, boring.
Adjoining that is the “Fab Lab,” which has 3D printers that work with wood and resin — and there’s advanced bookmaking facilities. That is, bookmaking like putting pages together and binding them, not taking bets on the side.
The only bet is that the new library will stand the test of time, and that the “Think Tank” comments will fade away and be replaced with, well, civic pride.