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Waterdown, Ontario, Canada | 2016
Architects: RDH Architects
Design Team: Tyler Sharp, Bob Goyeche, Sanjoy Pal, Andrew Cranford, Soo-Jin Rim, and Ivan Ilic
Client: City of Hamilton and the Hamilton Public Library
Contractor: Bondfield Construction
Structural Engineers: WSP / Halsall Ltd.
Landscape Architects: NAK Design
Photographer: Tom Arban
For the Waterdown Library and Civic Centre, the architects applied the studio’s practice of customizing off-the-shelf components to create an extraordinary building from ordinary materials. This objective, coupled with the building’s location — on the Niagara Escarpment, a rocky ridge overlooking Lake Ontario — established the impetus for the building’s design. The multi-use facility, which includes a library as well as a heritage society archive, police and municipal community service outlets, and a seniors' recreation centre, unites various demographics in a single building.
Throughout, the architects adapted standard, warrantied systems and materials, allowing for experimentation and tailored architecture, while keeping the budget reasonable and removing the risk from the client. Even the most standard elements such as strip lights were treated with a degree of care that adds elegance.
The building sits at a high point on an escarpment, where the earth begins to drop down towards to the lake, changing three metres in elevation from this high point to the edge of a main thoroughfare below. The low, linear volume cantilevers out from the slope like a hovering block of dolomitic limestone. Stone slab fins and panels clad the exterior, creating a bold, near-monolithic appearance that is inverted within, where the design team used the geography to establish a plan that is based on a series of accessible, sloping walkways that wind visitors through the library and down to the recreation rooms.
The internal topography heightens awareness of the surrounding landscape. It reaches its peak in the librar, where a series of four terraces step up towards the highest point in the building, demarcated by a path of Douglas fir book stacks. At the top, a large, sky-lit reading atrium provides striking views of the escarpment. Outside, an outdoor reading terrace and a sloping green roof with flowering sedums intensify the connection to the site.
Within the large, open-concept room, RDHA has carefully carved out intimate spaces and maintained a high degree of control over the finishes and furniture to ensure a cohesive interior environment. The Douglas Firaccents in the entry corridor are recycled material from the now-demolished Hamilton Central Library branch. In the children’s area, the ceiling dips down, creating a space with child-friendly technology and activities, dotted with baby Panton chairs. Quiet study rooms in the larger library have load-bearing, laminated walls made entirely of glass, uncannily supporting seemingly heavy ceilings that block the sound while preserving site lines. The special quality of the branch is underscored by a line of glass-enclosed, ethanol fireplaces, adjacent to a grouping of Paulin Orange Slice and Tulip chairs in ember hues.
The new library incorporates automatic check-in and return equipment that has allowed frontline staff to focus on programming and increased customer service. Also, the staff now have access to technology while in the staff workroom, enabling their time to become less constrained.