Page D2.1 . 01 August 2007                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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Postcard from Vancouver

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Vancouver Public Library, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Photography by David Owen.

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Dear ArchitectureWeek,

I was delighted to visit the Vancouver Public Library, in Vancouver, British Columbia, designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. On the surface, the 1995 library seems to be a postmodern homage to the Roman Colosseum. The form and facade work together to render the building a good neighbor in downtown Vancouver, aided by active public plazas on two corners. But it is the interior that really sets this building apart.

The book stacks and other traditional primary library functions are housed in a smaller rectangular building set well inside the ellipsoidal perimeter of the main building. This inner building's structural and thermal isolation make it a protective environment for housing the books despite substantial glazing in its facade. Surrounding the stacks are public and private library support services within the unusually shaped spaces formed by the curving outer wall of the library.

On the south, a multistory atrium serves as the building entry, with shops and restaurants arrayed along the curving south wall. Similarly, on the north, a second, daylit atrium separates the stacks from a thin, curving array of study spaces, offices, and small meeting rooms. Along the east edge of the stacks building are library administration spaces. And to its west are reading rooms, with more offices in the upper floors.

In rainy Vancouver, where daylight is at a premium for six months a year, Safdie's library strikes a brilliant balance between the sometimes-conflicting needs for book care and patron access to light.

On the road in B.C.,

David Owen

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