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    Grande Bibliothèque du Québec

    continued

    The team of John and Patricia Patkau with their partner Michael Cunningham worked with Montréal's Menkes Shooner Dagenais Letourneux (MSDL) as site architects to complete Patkau's largest and most ambitious project to date.

    International jurors, including Mary Jane Long of Long & Kentish, principal designers for the new British Library building at St. Pancras, praised the "elegance, precision, and sensitivity" of the Patkau scheme as well as their ability to "resolve the complex nature of the spaces and activities."

    Enlarging Patkau's Vocabulary

    The firm of Patkau Architects has become known for a handcrafted and site-oriented approach to design. In this project, their challenge was to adapt their unique way of working to a much larger scale than they were accustomed to.

    The resulting scheme stays true to their trademark oblique angles in plan and a restrained materials palette. The Grand Bibliothèque is not a "flashy" building. It has a sense of place that is defined but subtle, orienting the visitor with carefully framed views of the surrounding community and a sense of procession through the various spaces.

    The library program is surprisingly complex. In addition to housing over a million books (mainly in French) in the two separate library collections, there are music studios, a below-grade art gallery, conference and meeting rooms, a large auditorium, a children's library, and a landscaped park with public sculpture.

    There are two main ways to enter the building: indirectly from the south — with views along the skylit corridor, sliding into the end of the long rectangular form — and directly from rue Berri into the other end of this corridor at a junction between the two library collections.

    On axis with this direct entry is a shortcut through the building to the back alley leading to rue St. Denis, a lovely, bohemian street with cafes, shops, and houses in a student district. The building acts like a hinge between large-scale urban developments and smaller pedestrian-scale buildings in the area.

    Although the frosted green louvers — locally tinted and finished — are highly crafted and give the facade some character, it has less of the Patkau's material charm than their smaller projects. From the exterior, it looks boxy and commercial, as if it could be a shopping mall or office building. Moreover, the competition-winning scheme had featured elegant copper cladding, but, sadly, only a few copper panels at the lower level near the entrances remain of this idea.

    Into the Heart

    The interior is much more exciting: two enormous slatted volumes clad in yellow birch, the national tree of Québec, wrap the two main book collections. The famous 1958 Québec novel, Les Chambres de Bois (The Silent Rooms) by Anne Hébert, served as an inspiration for these beautiful, simple, and functional spaces. The horizontal louvers are permeable to light, air, sound, and pedestrian movement, yet they give the two main library collections distinct spaces with reading areas and circulation between.

    Bathed in natural light, the building's reading spaces range from informal seating and study carols to intimate balconies that poke out from above along the sunny, west-facing perimeter corridor. These inviting spaces are a perfect place to take a book from the stacks into the light.

    In contrast to these little outlooks, there are large formal reading spaces such as the grand reading room in the reference library. The space is light and airy and has unobstructed but filtered views up into the wood-slatted volumes, unhindered by services, which are all hidden in the floor or above suspended ceilings. Each of these diverse reading spaces has its own ambiance and is designed with comfort, appropriate lighting, and utility in mind.   >>>

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    The new Grand Bibliothèque of the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales de Québec (BAnQ), in Montréal, designed by Patkau Architects and Menkes Shooner Dagenais Letourneux.
    Photo: Bernard Fougères/ BAnQ

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    A grand pedestrian promenade links the library with the Metro.
    Photo: Bernard Fougères/ BAnQ

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    Interior promenade.
    Photo: Terri Whitehead

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    Three glazed elevators in the library lobby.
    Photo: Bernard Fougères/ BAnQ

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    Mezzanine reading area.
    Photo: Bernard Fougères/ BAnQ

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    The grand reading room in the reference library.
    Photo: Bernard Fougères/ BAnQ

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    Mezzanine reading area.
    Photo: Terri Whitehead

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    Art-bedecked walkway.
    Photo: Bernard Fougères/ BAnQ

     

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