The Danish architecture firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen (SHL) has established itself in recent years as the front-runner of urban library renewal, with several projects in Europe, China, Australia and Canada. Opened in December 2014, the Halifax Central Library granted the Atlantic Canadian harbour metropolis of 400,000 inhabitants entry to the club of cities with headline-grabbing public libraries, a full decade after Seattle arguably started the trend and with nothing to envy to its larger cousins to the west.
In association with the local firm Fowler, Bauld & Mitchell (FBM), SHL delivered a striking contemporary library that not only provided a much needed replacement to the previous Halifax Memorial Library but also a strong visual anchor to the commercial district along Spring Garden Road, currently experiencing a renewal.
The building’s five stories fill four rectangular boxes, slightly offset from one other as to perhaps resemble a stack of books waiting to be picked up, although the architects are quick to point out that the shapes are instead meant to align with the street grid. The topmost box, double the height of the others, juts out dramatically over the plaza at the front of the library and offering views to the city and its harbour, as well as a glimpse over the building’s green roofs. Accurately described as “Halifax’s Living Room” and within convenient reach of the fiction collection, it is among the library’s most sought after spots.
Piercing the centre of the library is a rectangular atrium bringing daylight across all levels. Crisscrossing the open space are walkways and stairs, bringing intuitive circulation between the various spaces. This “democratic architecture” approach, creating a sense of openness that welcomes visitors and invite them to own the public space, is among SHL’s successful recipes honed in on their past European projects.
Two cafés, one on the ground floor and one on the topmost, offer snacks and beverages to fuel library patrons. On the ground floor, a large performance space doubles as additional seating when not in use, thanks to its open connection to the library.
Catching the eye on the ground floor is the colourful installation “Library cards” by Cliff Eyland, with its 5,000 miniature collages and paintings. Nearby, a window offers a glimpse to the book sorting apparatus that moves returned books around on a complex network of belts and chutes.
Kitty corner from the new Central Library sits the former Halifax Memorial Library, designed by Leslie R. Fairn in late Classic Revival style and opened in 1951. Its small size and limited accessibility spurred the project that eventually led to the new library. The fate of the former library building, vacant since the opening of the new Central Library in 2014, remains unknown. As the land it was built on appears to have been a graveyard for the city’s poor (and possibly two of the Saladin pirates), a proposed development project has been put on hold.
- Nevarez, J. (2021). Halifax Central Library, Nova Scotia, Canada: “A Vital Centre for Learning and Culture in the Heart of the Community.” In The urban library: Creative city branding in spaces for all (pp. 85–91). Springer.
- Moon, K. S. (2019). Cantilevered Buildings. In Cantilever Architecture (pp. 131–133). Routledge.
- Broome, B. (2015). It all stacks up. Architectural Record, 203(3), pp. 84–89.
- Weder, A. (2015, June 23). A Halifax Library That Stacks Up. Azure Magazine.
- Domet, S. (2016). Spaces: Halifax’s new central library is engaging readers of all ages. Quill & Quire.
- King, A. (2016). Halifax Central Library. Architect.
- Interlocking volumes form new library. (2014). World Architecture News.
- Mezzi, P. (2016). Three libraries by Schmidt Hammer Lassen. Abitare.
- Conrad, A. B. (2014). New Halifax library officially opens its doors to the public. The Globe and Mail.
- Diviney, D. (n.d.). Cliff Eyland Returns to the Library. Canadian Art. Retrieved February 5, 2023
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!