Vancouver Public Library

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Often thought to resemble Rome’s Colosseum, the Vancouver Public Library (and the surrounding square) was the largest capital project ever undertaken by the City of Vancouver.

Library History

Vancouver Public Library
Vancouver Public Library

In 1990, when the city of Vancouver decided to build a new public library, they held a design contest to determine who would be responsible for creating the building. The winner by an overwhelming majority was architect Moshe Safdie, who also designed the Salt Lake City (Utah) Public Library in a very similar style. Officials were surprised that the public chose Safdie’s somewhat radical design, considering that many of the buildings located near the library are quite traditional.

Side view of the Vancouver Public Library
Side view
Annex of the Vancouver Public Library

The Building

Vancouver Library Square occupies an entire block in the eastern expansion section of the city on Georgia Ave., across from the Centre for the Performing Arts, which was designed by the same architect as a complementary building to the library.

The library portion is a seven-story rectangular box that houses all the books and periodicals as well as the other services offered by the library. That building is surrounded by a freestanding, elliptical, colonnaded wall that features reading and study areas accessed by bridges spanning sky-lit light wells.

An internal glass facade overlooks an enclosed concourse formed by a second elliptical wall on the east side. The concourse serves as the main entrance to the library and is also the space where special public events take place and patrons tend to gather. A public parking area with more than 700 parking spaces and several bicycle racks is located below ground.

In all, this stunning building covers 7,000 square-meters (398,000 square-feet) in area and houses 1.5 million books, periodicals, and other reference materials that are moved through the building by vertical and horizontal conveyors.

An office high rise, retail shops, and restaurants are also part of this one-square-block area. The office tower was included so that space could be rented to help pay for this project, which cost approximately $157 million Canadian dollars for both the library and the high rise.

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