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The New Central Library in Calgary

calgary public library

A space to think, dream, explore and become.

The city of Calgary, Alberta is a major urban centre at the foothills of Canada’s Rocky Mountains. Calgary is known around the world for its natural resource industry, youthful, enterprising population and of course, the Calgary Stampede. With the opening of the beautiful new Central Library, the City of Calgary will also be known for creating a breathtaking new public space and central community hub for residents of all ages. Engaged by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) Colliers Project Leaders provided project management services, as well as facilities planning and move readiness services to this complex project, one that was delivered on time and nearly $10 million under budget. 

The City of Calgary has been planning for a new Central Library since 2004, when it first devoted funds to study future library needs. “The old library was built in the 60s and it was almost too small from the moment it opened,” said Sarah Meilleur, Director, Service Delivery, City Centre Community Libraries and new Central Library, also known simply as the Calgary Public Library. “Early in the 80s the need was flagged for a new central library and the dreaming began.” Throughout 2012, more than 16,000 Calgarians participated in an extensive public engagement program to provide input into the function of Central Library and the role of the Library within the community. 

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The Calgary Municipal Land Corporation purposefully chose a prime location for its new Central Library, one that would be accessible to all Calgarians now and in the future.  One block east of City Hall in the burgeoning cultural hotspot of East Village, the site is a key destination and link that draws Calgarians from downtown through City Hall to the NCL and East Village. 
Construction began in 2014 with the encapsulation of the city's Light Rail Transit (LRT), which had to remain functional for commuters throughout construction. A first-of-its-kind project in North America, the library sits over top of the active LRT line. “There are so many variables: you’ve got the train on site, structure and reality of construction, but it all seemed to kind of gel in that perfect storm that it actually is better than we thought,” said Kate Thompson, Vice President, Development, CMLC. 

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“The beauty of the space is startling,” said Meilleur. “It is really reminiscent of the landscape that surrounds it.” The building, designed by Danish firm Snøhetta in collaboration with Calgary’s DIALOG, earned a spot in Architectural Digest’s list of the “12 Most Anticipated Buildings of 2018” and “World’s 9 Most Futuristic Libraries” and a feature in the New York Times “52 Places to Go in 2019”.  “This is a building that I think could only have been built in Calgary,” said Meilleur.


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The library opened its doors in November 2018 and welcomed more than 1 million visitors in the first three months. The 240,000 square foot building – which is 2/3 bigger than the original library - has five levels. Calgary Public Library is one of the most actively used library systems in North America, where more than half of its residents are active cardholders. “The building was always supposed to be open for everyone,” said Thompson. “On opening day when we all stood there and saw the breadth and diversity of people coming through, it was a catalytic moment to say – this actually worked, we pulled it off.” 

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The library is more than a home for books—it’s a central community hub for residents of all ages. Organized on a spectrum of ‘Fun’ to ‘Serious,’ the library program locates the livelier public activities on the lower floors, gradually transitioning to quieter study areas on the upper levels as one makes their way upwards. At the street level, a series of multi-purpose rooms line the perimeter of the building, enhancing the connectivity between inside and outside.
The Central Library is a fully-funded $245 million project, paid for by the City and CMLC. The Calgary Public Library Foundation’s Add in Campaign allows donors to enhance collections, programs, and services across the entire Library system. “Libraries are a place for people to realize their potential. This project is a sign of the City’s investment and belief in the people that live here in Calgary,” said Meilleur.

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Great Cities Need Great Spaces: Calgary Public Library