New Ottawa central library designs revealed; construction to start spring 2021

Ottawa's KWC Architects, Toronto's Diamond Schmitt Architects teamed up for design process
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Exterior renderings of the Ottawa Public Library-Library and Archives Canada joint facility.

Ottawa residents got their first preview of the city’s new central library Thursday as officials revealed the design of the $192.9-million building, paving the way for contractors to begin bidding on constructing the facility in the coming months.

Representatives from the federal government and the city were on hand at the Ottawa Art Gallery to unveil the designs of the new joint facility of the Ottawa Public Library and Library and Archives Canada. The library will sit on a vacant plot of land at the intersection of Bronson Avenue and Albert Street, a stone’s throw away from the Pimisi LRT station with views of the Ottawa River.

The project’s design has been spearheaded by two firms: Ottawa’s KWC Architects and Toronto-based Diamond-Schmitt Architects, which was also behind the recently renovated National Arts Centre.

The planned designs feature wave-like layers as well as accents of limestone and wood. The building will be topped with a green roof and will include other features geared towards making the facility as sustainable as possible – Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna said she’d like to see the library be a net-zero building, meaning it produces as much energy as it consumes.

The development itself will be 34 per cent larger in size than the OPL’s existing main branch at Laurier Avenue and Metcalfe Street. It will include amenities such as a ground-floor cafe and rooftop restaurant, a makerspace, recording studio and 60 meeting rooms – up from three at the current central branch.

Some 4,000 people in Ottawa and across Canada provided comments during public consultations that helped to shape the library's design.

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The view of the library from Pimisi Station.
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The interior "town hall" of the new library.
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A reading room in the new library.

Mayor Jim Watson said he was impressed with what the OPL board, LAC officials and the architects produced from the volume of public feedback. When asked at the unveiling whether the project might have to go back to the drawing board like the numerous iterations of the Château Laurier addition, Watson said he was confident residents will respond favourably to the proposed design. He called it a vast improvement on the city’s existing central library.

“When you look at the branch we have now for a G7 capital, it's pretty embarrassing. It's this old concrete bunker, and we're replacing that with a state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly, magnificent piece of architecture that the city and visitors to the city are going to really be impressed with,” he said.

“Now the second wave of heavy lifting has to be done: getting the tenders out, getting the shovels in the ground and getting it open by 2024.”

Coun. Tim Tierney, who chairs the OPL board, said it will take between nine and 12 months for tenders to be released and a winning bid decided.

City council approved a budget of $192.9 million in 2018 for the library’s construction. The same year, the federal budget allotted $73.3 million over six years and $4 million per year after that in funding for the joint facility.

On Thursday, Watson left open the possibility of revisiting the budget should construction costs rise beyond the approved funding envelope.

“We won't know the final cost is until the tenders come back and we open them and we'll have to deal with that at that time,” he said. “I'm very confident that we've been very prudent in our deliberations, but obviously if costs are going up, we have to take that into account and that will be a final decision by city council.”