Book club

From a library shaped like a ship to a requests for green space, the Central Library architects want your ideas.

On the morning of June 10, the Spring Garden Road Library's front sidewalk is awash in chalked colour. Shooting stars and flying books lead the way to the steps, and at the end of the mural is an invitation to that night's public consultation in Dalhousie's McInnes room---asking for ideas to form the soon-to-be Halifax Central Library.

Inside the library sit the two lead architects for the Central Library, George Cotaras from local firm Fowler Bauld & Mitchell, and Morten Schmidt from Danish firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen. The partnered firms won the job of designing and constructing the Central Library earlier this year---FBM brings its local expertise, and SHL brings its experience in international library projects. That night's public consultation kicks off the first of five public meetings this year to collect ideas of what citizens want for the long-awaited library.

"The library's going to be a building in this city that will transform a lot of the things," says Schmidt. "No doubt, it will be a unique building that will connect to the city...this one [Spring Garden Library] does not have that ability."

Schmidt, who's hosted a number of public consultations, is looking forward to hearing what HRM's public has to say. "It's very interesting to go through these processes because they can come up with very good ideas that you haven't really thought of. We, as architects, are facilitating that whole thing, and we'll of course be able to pull these ideas together in one big idea."

"We can't possibly incorporate everybody's individual ideas, but it'll be the collective," Cotaras quickly adds.

Later, at the consultation, approximately 250 people show up to have their voices heard. Members of Symphony Nova Scotia play while attendees fill the tables. Through the course of the next two hours, people in the McInnes Room will answer: What's your best experience of a building as a public space? What could the library give to the municipality, and the municipality to the library? What is your big idea?

In the basement of the Spring Garden Library that morning, Cotaras explains they are looking for three or four major themes they can use to start designing. Schmidt has had some bad experiences with public consultation, but only when a building's design has already been approved by the time a consultation is held. In the Central Library's case, nothing has been designed.

The 250 members of the public are hesitant, though. Whether it's because they're a bit nervous to say the wrong thing, or they're just unsure how to say it, it takes some time before anyone will voluntarily answer a question. Suggestions of a library that reflects Halifax's history are frequent---as is that it be shaped like a ship. At the end of the night, the brainstorming whiteboard with Post-Its is filled with ideas that include "hub," "flexible space," "awe-inspiring architecture," "green" and "multicultural"---ideas the architects have said are on their minds.

Cotaras and Schmidt say a LEED gold standard is what they're aiming for, and the creation of a landmark building is a given. The next two meetings will narrow down the questions---targeting interior and exterior spaces---with a preliminary concept design, and a more developed design to be presented at the last two meetings.

Asked if they're nervous about meeting public expectation, both laugh. "Not at all," says Schmidt. "We know we have big shoulders. We'll carry it," finishes Cotaras.