Top-tier shortlist of architects announced for Calgary’s new library

Three years ago I was assigned to look into the state of public libraries in Canada and was delighted, and I admit a touch surprised, to find many reasons to be optimistic. One bit of good news was Calgary city council’s decision to set aside serious money (the budget has since grown to $245 million) for a new central library.

But even with big money to spend, I noted that Calgary would be hard pressed to do better than, say, Surrey, B.C., which was just then opening its futuristic, Bing Thom-designed City Centre Library or Halifax, which was embarking on its own ambitious project to build an exciting new downtown library.


Today the shortlist of four architects for the Calgary library was announced, and the potential for an inspiring temple to free books is enormous. No images of design concepts are available yet, but here’s a quick look at the contenders:

• 3XN, a Danish firm (partnered with Calgary’s AECOM), has created some swoopy, dramatic buildings, including Europe’s biggest aquarium, which opened in Copenhagen a few months ago.
• Toronto’s KPMB (with Calgary’s BKDI for this competition) is the firm behind dozens of easy-to-like buildings, especially in the firm’s home city, and including University of Toronto’s handsome Rotman School of Management expansion, completed last year.
• New York’s REX (with Calgary’s Group2) is the firm of Joshua Prince-Ramus, a big star in architecture circles, and the visionary behind the celebrated Seattle Central Library.
• Norway’s Snohetta (with Calgary’s Dialog) gave Oslo a beloved new opera house (its profile reminds me of Ottawa’s Canadian War Museum, by Raymond Moriyama and Alexander Rankin, but with a glossier finish). The New York Review of Books offers this in-depth essay on Snohetta’s approach.

This is a top-tier group by any standard. Calgarians must be eager to see some pictures of what they’ve got in mind; I know I am. The firms have until Sept. 4 to submit their proposals, and the winner will be chosen in October. The plan is to start building in 2015 and begin letting in the book-seeking public in 2018.