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Calgary’s New Central Library a bridge between East Village and Downtown, the past and the future

This article by Carmen Cundy was funded by Patreon. Contribute now to help build a wider range of voices and stories covering our city. – LiveWire Calgary: Run by Journalists, for the community.


After four and a half years of construction, Calgary’s new Central Library is complete and its innovative design serves as a bridge between the East Village and the downtown core.

Some hope it may also serve as a bridge between the city’s past, and its future.

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“I feel very excited to see this as a place that becomes an important connector,” said Michelle Delk, partner and director of landscape architecture at Snohetta.

Not only does the library encourage movement and connectivity, bringing together two parts of the city that haven’t had a strong bond previously, the library itself serves as a “node that can draw people in,” Delk said.

Snohetta, an internationally renowned practice of architecture and design based in New York, collaborated with Calgary-based design firm DIALOG to bring an integrated approach to the new Central Library.

The two came together in 2013 as part of a design competition, but the project really broke ground in 2014 with the encapsulation of the live, active LRT line that bisects the library site. From the beginning, this was the design team’s biggest challenge.

“It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that the library would span the light rail … but I think we all became very excited quite quickly.

“Not only did we feel that made sense for the building itself, but it could have a tremendous impact on the city and the role [of the library] in the urban environment,” Delk explained.

Swept Away: Michelle Delk, partner and director of landscape architecture at Snohetta at the new Central Library in Calgary. Delk said the library’s design was inspired by the dramatic and sweeping chinook arch. CARMEN CUNDY / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The LRT encapsulation project was an engineering feat that demanded 40,000 labour hours. Most of the work was completed with the CTrain in full service.

According to Mary Kapusta, director of communications at the Central Library, the encapsulation of the LRT line was a huge achievement.

“Think of the shape of this building, and think of the engineering to encapsulate that LRT while the train was active. Eighteen months of construction and the line was active for 99 per cent of that.”

Delk said that the design team thought carefully about how the new library could become “the connector” between the East Village and the rest of downtown.

The East Village is one of the oldest areas of Calgary, and it has gone through a tremendous revitalization over the last 10 years, said Kapusta.

“[The library] is [now] a cornerstone of this community and a gateway to the East Village.”

Calgary’s new Central Library was completed on time and within its $245 million budget. The city contributed $175 million, while the remaining $70 million came from the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation.

But the library was hardly an overnight success, according to Ellen Humphrey, president and CEO of the Calgary Public Library Foundation.

Humphrey said that the need for a new and vibrant downtown library that could facilitate the needs of Calgarians “was a long time coming.”

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She hopes that every Calgarian and every visitor to the city will be drawn in by the new library’s design and will see the investment that the city of Calgary has made, which is a testament to the value of the library in the community.

“Libraries level the playing field,” Humphrey said.

“Everybody belongs here, everybody should feel welcome here, and everybody should feel this space was made for [them].”