Libraries present the same opportunity as museums. Both of these public buildings offer a chance for architects to stretch the limits of basic design and create iconic, public spaces that help define a community. While city halls, courthouses and even skyscrapers certainly can act in similar ways, often the most artistic of expression occurs when art itself signifies part of the process.

And that is exactly why design-forward buildings work for libraries and museums, because part of the function for those does fall into the column of architectural intrigue. A few weeks back I pointed out that the designs—created by architects, but only ones working for contractors—for the new Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton failed to meet those standards, instead presenting an obviously cost-conscious take on a big-box museum. Of course, not everyone agrees that art should play a major factor. Some say cost should take the lead and “iconic” looks aren’t worth the financial price, no matter the “cultural” payback. Let the debate ensue.

blog post photo

Falling on the “art” side of the debate must be at least some folks in British Columbia. The B.C. and Canadian governments got together to help foot the bill for the new $36 million Surrey Centre Library outside of Vancouver, B.C., proving that breaking away from the status quo creates excitement and just a little personalized design can create life in the community, as seen by the thousands who attended the grand opening of the 77,000-square-foot, four-story structure last week. 

Designed by one of Vancouver’s own, Bing Thom, one of the most well-known architects in Canada, the (certainly) distinct structure points (had to use the obvious pun there) to a new direction for Surrey. The angular design on the outside softens on the inside, opening up to serve a variety of programming functions.

blog post photo

Along with the now expected LEED designation and green roof, the new library has plenty of technology to show off to the public too, including 80 public computers and a 12-seat computer-learning center. Included in the function of the building rests meeting space, consultation rooms, a teen lounge and gaming room, silent study space, accommodations for the Simon Fraser University continuing education satellite campus, a coffee shop and a massive children’s section.

There is no function lost here. And that’s the real beauty of a library (or museum) that does things right: It ticks off a variety of boxes, from functional to cultural.