The evolution of community libraries from quiet repositories of books into lively social hubs has become a familiar story in recent years. But the latest chapter introduces an unexpected new character: the shopping mall.
In revamping Montreal’s Pierrefonds Public Library, Chevalier Morales and DMA Architectes looked to large shopping centres as a model for successfully organizing many different attractions under one shared roof. The end result — a calm, all-white environment accented by sharp angles and sweeping curves — is a whole lot more sophisticated than most suburban retail complexes, but still features clear parallels in its approach to spatial planning. Just like at a mall, a dynamic mix of spaces encourages leisurely exploration, helping to engage and inspire visitors even on days when they have no particular itinerary in mind.
Granted, you can’t impulse buy a pair of khakis here. Instead, bookshelves take the place of shops, grouped into thematic clusters that are divided in the style of a mall’s various wings. Concentrating the library’s collection in such a dense manner effectively frees up space for the building to adopt another core aspect of shopping malls: extra-wide circulation paths, enlivened by abundant communal seating and bright overhead skylights. Other popular destinations, like a fabrication lab and multimedia room, are situated at the building’s corners, akin to large department stores. An arcade-style games room even includes a foosball table.
Key pathways converge at open, expansive central meeting spots dedicated to social exchange, including a food court-esque cafe, and an upstairs lounge with oak bleacher seating. In yet another retail connection, a pair of crisscrossed staircases installed behind the cafe echoes a mall’s traditional arrangement of up-and-down escalators, transforming circulation into an exciting vantage point that looks out over the entire library.
Thankfully, the building’s design team also recognized that many shopping malls are actually too effective at creating worlds of their own, and end up being so inward-facing — not to mention car-centric — that they feel overly disconnected from their setting. To prevent that, Chevalier Morales and DMA Architects approached nature as another critical aspect of the project. In turn, an interior courtyard and rooftop terrace create a bridge to the outdoors, while glass curtain walls open up views to the landscape. By cantilevering a portion of the second floor, the architects foster an even closer connection between the upstairs bleacher seating area and the wooded park outside.
Other design elements honour the legacy of the library’s original home — a modest brick building that adjoins the sprawling new construction. Bricks salvaged from a portion of the old facade that was demolished to facilitate this connection now form interior partitions that mark the outline of the former building, adding some historic character to the project’s modern palette of oak, glass and steel.
Balancing old and new, indoors and outdoors, and communal and focused environments, the library effectively stakes its claim as a “third place” for socializing in between home and work. Rather than needing a reason to visit, visitors can come just to browse. Mall rats, meet your new favourite hangout.
Taking planning cues from suburban retail, Chevalier Morales and DMA Architects unite many distinct environments in one cohesive complex.