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Spaces: Halifax’s new central library is engaging readers of all ages

(Photo courtesy of Halifax public libraries)

“Is this the new library?” a child asked one recent afternoon as she crossed the threshold into the Halifax Central Library. “It’s awesome!”

The kid’s not wrong. The five-storey glass structure, built to resemble a stack of books, opened to the public in December 2014. More than 10,000 people streamed through the tall glass doors that day, and they haven’t stopped coming since.

(Photo courtesy of Halifax public libraries)

The $57.6 million-dollar building, designed by Fowler Bauld & Mitchell of Halifax, in partnership with European firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen, is equipped with the latest environmentally sound features. Its green roof, planted with low-growing sedum, keeps heat in when winter winds blow, and keeps the library cool in the height of summer. Halifax’s abundant rainfall is gathered and used for the building’s flush facilities. The windows are embossed with leaves made up of letters – “Each one was scrutinized to make sure there were no hidden messages,” a tour guide informed a group on a visit – to help birds avoid crashing into the glass.

Like the building’s striking envelope, its interior space is unlike any other in Halifax. Ceilings disappear above open-concept rooms, connected by wide staircases and bold bridges that crisscross the atrium. Five thousand card-catalogue–sized paintings by Canadian artist Cliff Eyland, arranged in a grid above the borrower services desk on the main floor and on a soaring white wall on the fifth floor, provide endless interest. Kids and teens can play video games on the second floor, make music in the free recording studio, or push pegs into the larger-than-life Lite-Brite-esque wall. One floor up, those looking for quiet spaces to read or write can find peace in the First Nations Circle.

(Photo courtesy of Halifax public libraries)

The library’s crowning glory is its fifth floor, cantilevered high above Spring Garden Road. That storey’s south end is home to a café and rooftop patio, and its north end is known as the city’s Living Room, with views of Citadel Hill to the north and Halifax Harbour to the east. As city traffic bustles beneath, Haligonians gather to read, surf the web, or simply to look out floor-to-ceiling windows.

Even the book deposit becomes an opportunity for design and engagement. Pop your returns in a typical metal slot, then hurry into the library to watch them travel by conveyor belt into the ceiling, and hustle past the borrower services desk to press your face against the glass of a small window to the sorting room, where books and DVDs are dropped into bins to be reshelved. There’s a window at child-height as well, so the young and the young at heart can appreciate the inner workings of their library side by side. – Stephanie Domet