A Library To Transform a Town

Photograph by Ben Rahn / A-Frame.
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Photograph by Ben Rahn / A-Frame.
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Photograph by Ben Rahn / A-Frame.
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Photograph by Tom Arban Photography.
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Photograph by Tom Arban Photography.
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Photograph by Ben Rahn / A-Frame.
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Photograph by Ben Rahn / A-Frame.
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Photograph by Ben Rahn / A-Frame.
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Photograph by Ben Rahn / A-Frame.
Photograph by Ben Rahn / A-Frame.
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Perkins + Will creates a new cultural landmark – a public square for performances and a library with romantic fritted-glass windows – to enliven the sleepy core of Orillia, Ontario.

In Orillia, located an hour and a half north of Toronto, big box stores on the outskirts of town have long been drawing shoppers out of the city centre, sapping the energy out of its small businesses and street life. Up until recently, those who continued to visit the core’s Victorian-era Opera House, farmers’ market, and outdoor festivals and performances could not enjoy basic urban comforts and amenities.

Now, the recently opened Orillia Public Library and Market Square, by Perkins + Will, responds to this vacuum with a combination of spaces addressing an array of cultural needs. The L-shaped library occupies a corner lot, wrapping around two sides of the Opera House and the new square at its centre. This outdoor gathering space includes the Performance Terrace, which is tucked under the library’s overhang just north of the Opera House and features low amphitheatre-style seating for live performances; and the Reading Garden, where you can enjoy a book during the warmer months.

From both inside and out, the library’s continuous ribbon of glazing is its most striking feature. It curves around the structure’s corners, lending it a sleek, futuristic feel, and floods the entrance hall with daylight that penetrates deep into the stacks. The double-height windows are punctuated by bands of decorative fritting – akin to a flourish you might see on the spine of one of the library’s rare books – that cast intricate shadows onto the library floor in six different motifs. The patterns, applied directly to the glass panes on a giant ink-jet printer then fused into the glass, carry through the interior as well, on balustrades and in the privacy screen suspended behind the checkout counter.

The rest of the building’s exterior is clad in raw concrete, local limestone, and Spanish terracotta tiles that mirror the red brick of the adjacent Opera House. Like the library as a whole, a material palette strikes a balance between a refined contemporary look and deference to the history of the library’s location and role.

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