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Shelving thoughts

The Coast sits down for a Q&A with the Halifax Central Library architects and asks them about collecting ideas from the public

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Local architectural firm Fowler Bauld & Mitchell and Danish firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen were recently hired to design and build Halifax’s soon-to-be Central Library, and are starting the public consultation process this week with the first public meeting. With projects such as Citadel High School and Dalhousie’s New Academic Building under FBM’s belt, and both Copenhagen’s Royal Library and Sweden’s Halmstad library under SHL’s, there’s no doubt it’s going to be an interesting process. We asked FBM’s lead architect, George Cotaras, and SHL’s lead, Morten Schmidt, just what they’re planning on doing, from the public consultation process to what they would want to put in their own dream library.

Let’s start a bit broader. What are your visions and expectations for the library?

Morten Schmidt (Schmidt Hammer Lassen): Well, the library’s going to be a building in this city that will transform a lot of the things. No doubt, it will be a unique building that will connect to the city. It will connect to the region, the municipality, and it will connect to the global world as well. This one [Spring Garden Library] does not have that ability. So this new institution will be completely unique in that sense. It will be open to everyone, very democratic, and you will be able to use the library in a completely different way as you have normally done with a traditional library.

Do you have anything specific in mind yet?

Schmidt: Well first of all, you will be able to use the library as a meeting place, as a place where you can connect to people, and you can share knowledge. There’s this idea of the need for us all to have a sort of in between space between our work and our home. We call it the third space. And the library will facilitate that need. It’s some of the few non-commercial spaces that we have, which is really important to keep that in mind---that it’s owned by the public, by all the people in the region. And they need to feel the ownership of it, and therefore it’s important that it’s not too commercial.

George Cotaras (Fowler Bauld & Mitchell): Some people have called it the city’s living room. Have your own at home, but this is the living room for the city where you can connect with your friends and your colleagues, and maybe people you haven’t met before. Special interest groups.

Schmidt: And of course it will be a landmark building, no doubt. And in that sense it will be able to radiate out to the whole world. And regardless of its size, it does not need to be large to really attract a lot of attention. So there’s no doubt that people will be coming here just to experience a new type of building. That’s for sure. And we’ll draw all the region as well to come here, even though they are not coming here just to lend a book. They will just come here to feel comfortable, and experience, explore.

What have your experiences been with public consultation, with libraries or other projects?

Schmidt: Well, all of the public buildings that we have done have gone through a public consultation process, because you need to engage the public in a true and honest way so they really feel that they are part of the whole creation of it. 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, one can say.

Cotaras: We expect there’s going to be---after tonight---there will probably be three or four major themes that will come out from the public, and those will get coalesced. We’ll see those themes develop tonight, and then we’ll start with those themes. We can’t possibly incorporate everybody’s individual ideas, but it’ll be the collective. That’s the intention.

How do you start with those themes?

Cotaras: We ask very broad questions. And that’s what will happen tonight. Morten used the phrase already: “What’s your big idea?” and that’s the third question that will be asked tonight. Another one will be how will the library, or how could the library change your life?

Judy Hare (Halifax Public Libraries CEO): And change the city.

Cotaras: And how do you expect this building to interact with the municipality? Because the building and municipality are going to have a relationship, so we’re looking at people to give us their thoughts on that relationship. Or how could it influence the municipality.

Have you ever come across a time where public consultation wasn’t as helpful as you thought it was going to be?

Schmidt: Well, yeah. In Europe, we have the tradition of starting off the project with a design competition, with a selection of say five, eight, 10 architects, and a group of juries. And when they’ve selected a design, they need to stick to that design. And at that time, the public has not really been drawn in so there can be quite a lot of tension there because you need to present a design that is already sort of there. You can change a little bit, but not a lot. This process here’s completely different, because the client---the municipality---they have chosen an architect but not a design so far, so we are just in the very early stages of that process. Bringing in the public.

Have you done it this way before?

Schmidt: Yeah, well there are some different ways of doing these things.

Cotaras: From our side, we don’t often do buildings as public as this. We do a lot of university buildings, schools, and sorts of things, and we’re consulting with the users, and often there’s three or four or five stakeholder groups that have an interest in it, but it’s not the public per se. And even those three or four stakeholder groups can have differing opinions on what the building could or should be, so we still have to satisfy everybody’s needs. This is a bigger and broader exercise, but could be even better ideas though, I think.

I know that there’s a lot of public expectation put on the library, and you obviously have a budget. How do you get through the ideas to find a solution for design and concept that stay within budget, while meeting what you can for the public?

Cotaras: We’re always working on projects that have expectations and budgets, and one influences the other just as much. We always know what the budget is. We know roughly how big the building needs to be to fit that budget, and you design within those parameters. There’s always a back and forth between the two, checking one against the other to make sure they’re balanced.

But here the client is a large public, as you were saying.

Cotaras: It is, but it doesn’t mean that they’re going to get a bigger building because they think it should be bigger. We know we have a budget that’s limited and we have to work within that, so there will be compromises, quite possibly on some other program just to suit that budget. We can’t exceed the budget. But I don’t think anybody’s going to be disappointed.

Schmidt: And we’re working with many options at this stage, and also we’re looking carefully into many different ways of constructing the building. And we must remember there’s a lot of other things that go into the whole package, which is sustainability, LEED, and all that stuff, so we are at this early stage also evaluating the cost of the large elements of the building, so we know which one to pick when we go further into the process.

It’s a five-stage process and this is the first step in the public consultations---what are the other four meetings bringing forward?

Cotaras: The next public meeting will be on the eighth of July, and we’re going to have more detailed questions. We haven’t refined all of the questions yet, we’ll see what comes out in tonight’s meeting, but tonight is very broad, eighth of July will focus in on some more detail aspects. It might be the relationship between interior and exterior space, for example. Then on the 23 or 24 of August, I can’t remember the exact date, we’ll have another public meeting and that may be more about the detail of some of the spaces inside. What does “children’s library” mean? Those sorts of things. Then at the end of September there will be a preliminary concept---and it’s only a concept design---presented to the public for, again, their input into that. And then the fourth of November there will be a presentation of the concept design. There will be two or three more public consultations after that over the next following months, where the design will evolve even more, and we’ll expect public input from that too. It’s a refinement from very big picture to very small-scale detail over that period of time. And I’m sure that the public will be updated and informed, and even looking for reactions while we’re building the building. I’m sure you’ll be around with a camera. [Laughs.]

Yeah, we tend to be around.

Cotaras: It’ll be hard to miss.

We’ll stay on top of it. Mr. Schmidt, do you have anything to add?

Schmidt: Yeah, one thing is that I may not have mentioned in the beginning when you asked about what will this building mean---what will it do to the city? When it’s being built in high quality---high quality of space, of light and materiality---functional wise it’s completely different. It will radiate to the whole area of the city, no doubt. So it will, over time, be a catalyst for the whole revitalization of the area. For sure. It has been seen many other places that to add a building of this quality to an area of an inner city is really doing something to it. So this is important to mention.

When you’re saying revitalizing the city, you mean the downtown core?

Schmidt: Yeah, yeah.

Cotaras: I think the mayor and council’s endorsement of this project is a positive statement in their belief in the downtown core. The downtown core has started to change, and I think this library will be just one of several potential developments to just spur that on. When you have one thing leads to another, the public library could be a focal point for a lot of life downtown, so there’ll be more people that might be encouraged to live downtown, more people to work again. I think there’ll be a lot more development coming from---Spring Garden Road is going to be even better than it already is.

It definitely seems that, of all the developments, the library’s the one thing that everybody’s pushing for and behind.

Cotaras: Well, it’s the one thing we know that’s going to happen. They’ve been talking about a lot of various developments, and we haven’t seen them yet.

Schmidt: And it’s a very interesting site as well. It sits right there, where it has a strong connection up to the Citadel via the non-orthogonal road that goes up…

Cotaras: Queen Street.

Schmidt: Queen Street! I always have to be reminded of the names. Maybe in a year’s time I will learn. [Laughs.] And of course if you look at the historical context, this is a green area. It used to be, as I can understand it, a villa, a mansion was there, and a beautiful garden in the back of it. And even though it’s a parking lot now, there’s this feeling of it’s an open green space in the city. Now we add a huge building right there, how can we---the challenge is really to bring some of the qualities of that open, free space, green space back to it. And we have the opportunity to do these things. Yet, at the same time, to design a building that will take in the urban space, the urban exterior space into the building. And in between we have the library, and the knowledge centre of it.

Cotaras: The library site is a pivot point. You have the harbour, you have downtown. Our site, you have the commercial district around it, you have the university that’s part there, you have that Schmidtville residential development, and then you have the green belt that Morten was talking about, that comes from Citadel hill and the commons all the way down to the south end, so it’s right in the middle of all of that. So it’s a big catalyst for an awful lot of public life, centered around all of those major centres of the downtown core. It’s a perfect site.

Schmidt: And it will, I mean if you look at European cities, there’s always a place where you can say this is the centre of the city. Either the dome is there or the city hall or whatever. I’m not that familiar with Halifax yet, but I have a feeling that there’s not that space where you can say this is the centre. I’m right in that?

Hare: I think that’s true. As you said, most European cities tend to have the big public square, and a lot of things and activities are happening all the time in that square. And I guess we’re kind of spread in Halifax.

Cotaras: We have the grand parade but it really isn’t able to accommodate a lot of things. It’s kind of cut up and chopped up and got things in the middle of it. This I think will be much more of a focus for downtown.

Schmidt: So that will, the whole of the exterior of the building will be important. There’s a formal space in front of the building that, as George said, the space in between the architect school and the new library is also a very interesting space. And then south of it there’s another square that will open up for new possibilities to connect into the library itself. And the ground floor of the library will be very, very public and very much driven by performance and all that stuff.

And I understand the main floor has to have retail space in it. Is that something you both have worked with before in terms of public space housing private space?

Schmidt: Yeah, we are discussing it at the moment. There’s a lot of different retailers.

Cotaras: We don’t know the nature of that space yet. We were just discussing it yesterday with senior library management. What is that space? Certainly you don’t want to compete with anybody on spring garden road commercially, but you could perhaps have commercial ventures in there that are complimentary, that not only add to the commercial life but add to the life of the library.

And I imagine that’s just in the beginning stages as well?

Cotaras: Very beginning stages.

With all the public expectation and how much everyone wants out of this library, are either of you nervous at all?

[Everyone laughs.]

Schmidt: No, not at all.

Cotaras: Not nervous. We know we have big shoulders. We’ll carry it. Looking forward to it, but it is a big project for us.

Hare: I have a lot of confidence in them.

Schmidt: It should be very interesting. It’s unique every time. Because it’s part of the whole evolution of humanity, in a way, because it’s new ideas that are brought into life that have sort of never existed before. We need to develop ourself that way. On a subtle level though. This is the interesting part of it.

Cotaras: It’s one of the really interesting things about the profession of architecture is that every project is different. You’re not doing the same thing the next time and again.

Where do you get your inspirations and ideas from when you’re building projects one after the other? With each project having its own identity?

Schmidt: Well, first of all we are looking at the whole brief of the project. Comes from the need from the clients is different from client to client, no doubt. Although there are many similarities. This is one thing to be inspired by and build upon. Besides that of course, we look into all the other libraries that are being built at the moment. But you know from idea to its completed, easily six, eight, 10 years can go. So the just-completed projects, they’re actually 10 years old. So we need to think ahead of that. Which is of course the challenge. But taking a view on everything, I think as architects we need to be very broad-minded, and look at everything, what is happening in society today. What’s really happening with the whole individualization of humanity. We’re getting more and more self conscious and that whole idea of I’m myself, I want to, I have some goals, I want this, reflects into the way a library will be designed, no doubt.

Do you think there’s any conflict there with the individual conscience and it being a very public space?

Schmidt: No, because we are so developed now that we also have the need to be together. We need to be able to select our spaces and our atmospheres. We’re not satisfied with an atmosphere that we don’t really feel is ours.

Cotaras: The library will satisfy people’s needs to be individuals and be part of a group collective. It’s going to accommodate different spaces for different types of activities and people’s mindset at that time. I think a lot of our inspiration might come from tonight.

Schmidt: Well, just looking at the needs for seniors and teens, they’re quite different, right? And to bring them together is a challenge. They need different environments.

Cotaras: Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a senior and a 12-year-old sitting beside each other at some sort of computer console and they actually interact, accidentally.

Schmidt: Yeah, we’ll have large zones where these things overlap, and that’s where the interesting interaction takes place.

Cotaras: It may not be as compartmentalized as some traditional libraries have been, in terms of this is only for adults and this is only for kids. We’re talking about maybe mixing it up a little. It’s one of the ideas we were discussing yesterday with Judy’s staff.

You were saying you’re going to Seattle tomorrow---is that to check out the Seattle library?

Cotaras: We’re going to check out the Seattle Public Library. It’s not a favourite library by many people’s standards, including Judy and her staff, but it’s something we still want to see.

Hare: I think, like any building, it’s got really great features and there are things that we think “I don’t know why they did that,” and maybe that’s not for us. But no question that Seattle has some really fine public spaces in that building.

Schmidt: It’s certainly a landmark building, and it has really drawn attention from all over the world. I guess they have lots of visitors that just come to see the building and public spaces.

Hare: That’s right, the library’s listed in all the tourist brochures now as one of the top ten sites of Seattle.

Cotaras: But like it or hate it, that library more than tripled their membership after opening. That’s success.

What features in the Seattle library are you not looking for in Halifax?

Cotaras: I can offer my thoughts on what I’ve heard, is the compartmentalization of all the books in one spot.

Schmidt: You don’t really see the books. This is a major issue. Whether you want to get rid of the book, or you want to bring the book into a frame where it’s actually bringing something, atmosphere to it.

Cotaras: You don’t browse. You’re not encouraged to go browse and find something by accident. You have to know exactly what you’re going to look for and find it in the right spot, whereas you go to a bookstore, you go to any retail thing you sort of browse, you find something unexpected and it’s the unexpected that makes it more successful. In architecture we refer to it as the accidental space, and it’s the space that you didn’t expect, but it’s delightful.

Schmidt: But there’s no doubt that the presentation of the book needs to be rethought. And there’s no way a traditional book stack thing, rows by rows, will survive. The book needs to be brought in another representative way to the customer.

Do you have any ideas as to how that might happen?

Schmidt: Well, there’s many ways of doing this. You have quite an interesting second-hand bookstore here in Halifax, I really enjoyed it.

JW Doull?

Schmidt: Yeah, I’ve never seen anything like it. But, interestingly enough, its’ really interesting to walk around in it because you can explore and get lost. You can walk on books.

Cotaras: Yeah, you have to sometimes.

What are your plans for the library’s environmental standards?

Cotaras: The library and the city have said us to be LEED silver, we’re aiming to achieve LEED gold. We don’t think it’s difficult to achieve that. We’ve done---and so has Morten---a lot of sustainable design over the years. And ours we’ve had probably 12 to15 LEED registered buildings and three certified buildings, but we’re looking for again the public’s thought on sustainability. What is sustainability to the public, be it a LEED point or not a LEED point. Because I think that the city and citizens of the municipality may have a different take on that, and we’re looking forward to hearing about that, probably next month. But we are going to aim for LEED gold, if you want to hit a target in terms of points. But we may have other things in there that may not get us a LEED point but maybe a perfectly appropriate thing to do, sustainably.

Do we have any LEED gold buildings in Halifax?

Cotaras: None yet. We have a building under construction at Dalhousie right now at Coburg and LeMarchant Street that is targeting LEED gold, and I think we’ll achieve it. The New Academic Building. Silver is now becoming more of the norm. Now it’s time to raise the bar a little higher again. It’s not that hard to achieve LEED silver.

Personally, what would you really want in a library if you could put anything in there?

Schmidt: I would definitely have facilities where I can learn, well where I can go and enjoy performances of many kinds. First of all, of course related to the book and the literary things, like lectures and poems and writing and all that, but also music to go and enjoy music around it would be beautiful. That’s, besides all the other things, that performance space is really crucial I think.

Cotaras: That probably is going to add a lot of life to the heart of the building.

Is that something you’re definitely thinking of?

Cotaras: Absolutely. In fact we have a meeting with some cultural organizations right after this.

Schmidt: And I enjoy when going to museums and libraries as well, always to go to the bookstore, bookshop. So I would very much like to see a bookshop in the library as well. I like books, bring them home and I may not read them, but it’s very nice to have a book.

Hare: The book will always be with us.

Schmidt: Absolutely. I really enjoy it.

Hare: I think for me, the one thing I would say too is it would be wonderful if this building could capture that element of surprise. A little unpredictable, not the same every single day forever. A change in environment so that it’s new and it’s fresh, people can come there to see “I wonder what they’re doing now, and what’s new?” So that’s a feeling that I’d like to have for the building.

Cotaras: I want it to be a great place to be. To feel comfortable. Sort of like finding a book you’ve found by serendipity, by accident, and having a coffee and sitting by the fire.

Are we getting fireplaces!?!

Cotaras: Who knows? [Everyone laughs.]

Schmidt: Don’t laugh.

Cotaras: With a good coffee shop.

Schmidt: It may even be the place where you go and have your wedding.

Morten Schmidt (Schmidt Hammer Lassen): Well, the library’s going to be a building in this city that will transform a lot of the things. No doubt, it will be a unique building that will connect to the city. It will connect to the region, the municipality, and it will connect to the global world as well. This one [Spring Garden Library] does not have that ability. So this new institution will be completely unique in that sense. It will be open to everyone, very democratic, and you will be able to use the library in a completely different way as you have normally done with a traditional library.

Do you have anything specific in mind yet?

Schmidt: Well first of all, you will be able to use the library as a meeting place, as a place where you can connect to people, and you can share knowledge. There’s this idea of the need for us all to have a sort of in between space between our work and our home. We call it the third space. And the library will facilitate that need. It’s some of the few non-commercial spaces that we have, which is really important to keep that in mind---that it’s owned by the public, by all the people in the region. And they need to feel the ownership of it, and therefore it’s important that it’s not too commercial.

George Cotaras (Fowler Bauld & Mitchell): Some people have called it the city’s living room. Have your own at home, but this is the living room for the city where you can connect with your friends and your colleagues, and maybe people you haven’t met before. Special interest groups.

Schmidt: And of course it will be a landmark building, no doubt. And in that sense it will be able to radiate out to the whole world. And regardless of its size, it does not need to be large to really attract a lot of attention. So there’s no doubt that people will be coming here just to experience a new type of building. That’s for sure. And we’ll draw all the region as well to come here, even though they are not coming here just to lend a book. They will just come here to feel comfortable, and experience, explore.

*What have your experiences been with public consultation, with libraries or other projects?*

Schmidt: Well, all of the public buildings that we have done have gone through a public consultation process, because you need to engage the public in a true and honest way so they really feel that they are part of the whole creation of it. 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, one can say.

Cotaras: We expect there’s going to be---after tonight---there will probably be three or four major themes that will come out from the public, and those will get coalesced. We’ll see those themes develop tonight, and then we’ll start with those themes. We can’t possibly incorporate everybody’s individual ideas, but it’ll be the collective. That’s the intention.

How do you start with those themes?

Cotaras: We ask very broad questions. And that’s what will happen tonight. Morten used the phrase already: “What’s your big idea?” and that’s the third question that will be asked tonight. Another one will be how will the library, or how could the library change your life?

Judy Hare (Halifax Public Libraries CEO): And change the city.

Cotaras: And how do you expect this building to interact with the municipality? Because the building and municipality are going to have a relationship, so we’re looking at people to give us their thoughts on that relationship. Or how could it influence the municipality.

Have you ever come across a time where public consultation wasn’t as helpful as you thought it was going to be?

Schmidt: Well, yeah. In Europe, we have the tradition of starting off the project with a design competition, with a selection of say five, eight, 10 architects, and a group of juries. And when they’ve selected a design, they need to stick to that design. And at that time, the public has not really been drawn in so there can be quite a lot of tension there because you need to present a design that is already sort of there. You can change a little bit, but not a lot. This process here’s completely different, because the client---the municipality---they have chosen an architect but not a design so far, so we are just in the very early stages of that process. Bringing in the public.

Have you done it this way before?

Schmidt: Yeah, well there are some different ways of doing these things.

Cotaras: From our side, we don’t often do buildings as public as this. We do a lot of university buildings, schools, and sorts of things, and we’re consulting with the users, and often there’s three or four or five stakeholder groups that have an interest in it, but it’s not the public per se. And even those three or four stakeholder groups can have differing opinions on what the building could or should be, so we still have to satisfy everybody’s needs. This is a bigger and broader exercise, but could be even better ideas though, I think.

*I know that there’s a lot of public expectation put on the library, and you obviously have a budget. How do you get through the ideas to find a solution for design and concept that stay within budget, while meeting what you can for the public?*

Cotaras: We’re always working on projects that have expectations and budgets, and one influences the other just as much. We always know what the budget is. We know roughly how big the building needs to be to fit that budget, and you design within those parameters. There’s always a back and forth between the two, checking one against the other to make sure they’re balanced.

But here the client is a large public, as you were saying.

Cotaras: It is, but it doesn’t mean that they’re going to get a bigger building because they think it should be bigger. We know we have a budget that’s limited and we have to work within that, so there will be compromises, quite possibly on some other program just to suit that budget. We can’t exceed the budget. But I don’t think anybody’s going to be disappointed.

Schmidt: And we’re working with many options at this stage, and also we’re looking carefully into many different ways of constructing the building. And we must remember there’s a lot of other things that go into the whole package, which is sustainability, LEED, and all that stuff, so we are at this early stage also evaluating the cost of the large elements of the building, so we know which one to pick when we go further into the process.

It’s a five-stage process and this is the first step in the public consultations---what are the other four meetings bringing forward?

Cotaras: The next public meeting will be on the eighth of July, and we’re going to have more detailed questions. We haven’t refined all of the questions yet, we’ll see what comes out in tonight’s meeting, but tonight is very broad, eighth of July will focus in on some more detail aspects. It might be the relationship between interior and exterior space, for example. Then on the 23 or 24 of August, I can’t remember the exact date, we’ll have another public meeting and that may be more about the detail of some of the spaces inside. What does “children’s library” mean? Those sorts of things. Then at the end of September there will be a preliminary concept---and it’s only a concept design---presented to the public for, again, their input into that. And then the fourth of November there will be a presentation of the concept design. There will be two or three more public consultations after that over the next following months, where the design will evolve even more, and we’ll expect public input from that too. It’s a refinement from very big picture to very small-scale detail over that period of time. And I’m sure that the public will be updated and informed, and even looking for reactions while we’re building the building. I’m sure you’ll be around with a camera. [Laughs.]

Yeah, we tend to be around.

Cotaras: It’ll be hard to miss.

We’ll stay on top of it. Mr. Schmidt, do you have anything to add?

Schmidt: Yeah, one thing is that I may not have mentioned in the beginning when you asked about what will this building mean---what will it do to the city? When it’s being built in high quality---high quality of space, of light and materiality---functional wise it’s completely different. It will radiate to the whole area of the city, no doubt. So it will, over time, be a catalyst for the whole revitalization of the area. For sure. It has been seen many other places that to add a building of this quality to an area of an inner city is really doing something to it. So this is important to mention.

When you’re saying revitalizing the city, you mean the downtown core?

Schmidt: Yeah, yeah.

Cotaras: I think the mayor and council’s endorsement of this project is a positive statement in their belief in the downtown core. The downtown core has started to change, and I think this library will be just one of several potential developments to just spur that on. When you have one thing leads to another, the public library could be a focal point for a lot of life downtown, so there’ll be more people that might be encouraged to live downtown, more people to work again. I think there’ll be a lot more development coming from---Spring Garden Road is going to be even better than it already is.

It definitely seems that, of all the developments, the library’s the one thing that everybody’s pushing for and behind.

Cotaras: Well, it’s the one thing we know that’s going to happen. They’ve been talking about a lot of various developments, and we haven’t seen them yet.

Schmidt: And it’s a very interesting site as well. It sits right there, where it has a strong connection up to the Citadel via the non-orthogonal road that goes up…

Cotaras: Queen Street.

Schmidt: Queen Street! I always have to be reminded of the names. Maybe in a year’s time I will learn. [Laughs.] And of course if you look at the historical context, this is a green area. It used to be, as I can understand it, a villa, a mansion was there, and a beautiful garden in the back of it. And even though it’s a parking lot now, there’s this feeling of it’s an open green space in the city. Now we add a huge building right there, how can we---the challenge is really to bring some of the qualities of that open, free space, green space back to it. And we have the opportunity to do these things. Yet, at the same time, to design a building that will take in the urban space, the urban exterior space into the building. And in between we have the library, and the knowledge centre of it.

Cotaras: The library site is a pivot point. You have the harbour, you have downtown. Our site, you have the commercial district around it, you have the university that’s part there, you have that Schmidtville residential development, and then you have the green belt that Morten was talking about, that comes from Citadel hill and the commons all the way down to the south end, so it’s right in the middle of all of that. So it’s a big catalyst for an awful lot of public life, centered around all of those major centres of the downtown core. It’s a perfect site.

Schmidt: And it will, I mean if you look at European cities, there’s always a place where you can say this is the centre of the city. Either the dome is there or the city hall or whatever. I’m not that familiar with Halifax yet, but I have a feeling that there’s not that space where you can say this is the centre. I’m right in that?

Hare: I think that’s true. As you said, most European cities tend to have the big public square, and a lot of things and activities are happening all the time in that square. And I guess we’re kind of spread in Halifax.

Cotaras: We have the grand parade but it really isn’t able to accommodate a lot of things. It’s kind of cut up and chopped up and got things in the middle of it. This I think will be much more of a focus for downtown.

Schmidt: So that will, the whole of the exterior of the building will be important. There’s a formal space in front of the building that, as George said, the space in between the architect school and the new library is also a very interesting space. And then south of it there’s another square that will open up for new possibilities to connect into the library itself. And the ground floor of the library will be very, very public and very much driven by performance and all that stuff.

And I understand the main floor has to have retail space in it. Is that something you both have worked with before in terms of public space housing private space?

Schmidt: Yeah, we are discussing it at the moment. There’s a lot of different retailers.

Cotaras: We don’t know the nature of that space yet. We were just discussing it yesterday with senior library management. What is that space? Certainly you don’t want to compete with anybody on spring garden road commercially, but you could perhaps have commercial ventures in there that are complimentary, that not only add to the commercial life but add to the life of the library.

And I imagine that’s just in the beginning stages as well?

Cotaras: Very beginning stages.

With all the public expectation and how much everyone wants out of this library, are either of you nervous at all?

[Everyone laughs.]

Schmidt: No, not at all.

Cotaras: Not nervous. We know we have big shoulders. We’ll carry it. Looking forward to it, but it is a big project for us.

Hare: I have a lot of confidence in them.

Schmidt: It should be very interesting. It’s unique every time. Because it’s part of the whole evolution of humanity, in a way, because it’s new ideas that are brought into life that have sort of never existed before. We need to develop ourself that way. On a subtle level though. This is the interesting part of it.

Cotaras: It’s one of the really interesting things about the profession of architecture is that every project is different. You’re not doing the same thing the next time and again.

Where do you get your inspirations and ideas from when you’re building projects one after the other? With each project having its own identity?

Schmidt: Well, first of all we are looking at the whole brief of the project. Comes from the need from the clients is different from client to client, no doubt. Although there are many similarities. This is one thing to be inspired by and build upon. Besides that of course, we look into all the other libraries that are being built at the moment. But you know from idea to its completed, easily six, eight, 10 years can go. So the just-completed projects, they’re actually 10 years old. So we need to think ahead of that. Which is of course the challenge. But taking a view on everything, I think as architects we need to be very broad-minded, and look at everything, what is happening in society today. What’s really happening with the whole individualization of humanity. We’re getting more and more self conscious and that whole idea of I’m myself, I want to, I have some goals, I want this, reflects into the way a library will be designed, no doubt.

Do you think there’s any conflict there with the individual conscience and it being a very public space?

Schmidt: No, because we are so developed now that we also have the need to be together. We need to be able to select our spaces and our atmospheres. We’re not satisfied with an atmosphere that we don’t really feel is ours.

Cotaras: The library will satisfy people’s needs to be individuals and be part of a group collective. It’s going to accommodate different spaces for different types of activities and people’s mindset at that time. I think a lot of our inspiration might come from tonight.

Schmidt: Well, just looking at the needs for seniors and teens, they’re quite different, right? And to bring them together is a challenge. They need different environments.

Cotaras: Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a senior and a 12-year-old sitting beside each other at some sort of computer console and they actually interact, accidentally.

Schmidt: Yeah, we’ll have large zones where these things overlap, and that’s where the interesting interaction takes place.

Cotaras: It may not be as compartmentalized as some traditional libraries have been, in terms of this is only for adults and this is only for kids. We’re talking about maybe mixing it up a little. It’s one of the ideas we were discussing yesterday with Judy’s staff.

You were saying you’re going to Seattle tomorrow---is that to check out the Seattle library?

Cotaras: We’re going to check out the Seattle Public Library. It’s not a favourite library by many people’s standards, including Judy and her staff, but it’s something we still want to see.

Hare: I think, like any building, it’s got really great features and there are things that we think “I don’t know why they did that,” and maybe that’s not for us. But no question that Seattle has some really fine public spaces in that building.

Schmidt: It’s certainly a landmark building, and it has really drawn attention from all over the world. I guess they have lots of visitors that just come to see the building and public spaces.

Hare: That’s right, the library’s listed in all the tourist brochures now as one of the top ten sites of Seattle.

Cotaras: But like it or hate it, that library more than tripled their membership after opening. That’s success.

What features in the Seattle library are you not looking for in Halifax?

Cotaras: I can offer my thoughts on what I’ve heard, is the compartmentalization of all the books in one spot.

Schmidt: You don’t really see the books. This is a major issue. Whether you want to get rid of the book, or you want to bring the book into a frame where it’s actually bringing something, atmosphere to it.

Cotaras: You don’t browse. You’re not encouraged to go browse and find something by accident. You have to know exactly what you’re going to look for and find it in the right spot, whereas you go to a bookstore, you go to any retail thing you sort of browse, you find something unexpected and it’s the unexpected that makes it more successful. In architecture we refer to it as the accidental space, and it’s the space that you didn’t expect, but it’s delightful.

Schmidt: But there’s no doubt that the presentation of the book needs to be rethought. And there’s no way a traditional book stack thing, rows by rows, will survive. The book needs to be brought in another representative way to the customer.

Do you have any ideas as to how that might happen?

Schmidt: Well, there’s many ways of doing this. You have quite an interesting second-hand bookstore here in Halifax, I really enjoyed it.

JW Doull?

Schmidt: Yeah, I’ve never seen anything like it. But, interestingly enough, its’ really interesting to walk around in it because you can explore and get lost. You can walk on books.

Cotaras: Yeah, you have to sometimes.

What are your plans for the library’s environmental standards?

Cotaras: The library and the city have said us to be LEED silver, we’re aiming to achieve LEED gold. We don’t think it’s difficult to achieve that. We’ve done---and so has Morten---a lot of sustainable design over the years. And ours we’ve had probably 12 to15 LEED registered buildings and three certified buildings, but we’re looking for again the public’s thought on sustainability. What is sustainability to the public, be it a LEED point or not a LEED point. Because I think that the city and citizens of the municipality may have a different take on that, and we’re looking forward to hearing about that, probably next month. But we are going to aim for LEED gold, if you want to hit a target in terms of points. But we may have other things in there that may not get us a LEED point but maybe a perfectly appropriate thing to do, sustainably.

Do we have any LEED gold buildings in Halifax?

Cotaras: None yet. We have a building under construction at Dalhousie right now at Coburg and LeMarchant Street that is targeting LEED gold, and I think we’ll achieve it. The New Academic Building. Silver is now becoming more of the norm. Now it’s time to raise the bar a little higher again. It’s not that hard to achieve LEED silver.

Personally, what would you really want in a library if you could put anything in there?

Schmidt: I would definitely have facilities where I can learn, well where I can go and enjoy performances of many kinds. First of all, of course related to the book and the literary things, like lectures and poems and writing and all that, but also music to go and enjoy music around it would be beautiful. That’s, besides all the other things, that performance space is really crucial I think.

Cotaras: That probably is going to add a lot of life to the heart of the building.

Is that something you’re definitely thinking of?

Cotaras: Absolutely. In fact we have a meeting with some cultural organizations right after this.

Schmidt: And I enjoy when going to museums and libraries as well, always to go to the bookstore, bookshop. So I would very much like to see a bookshop in the library as well. I like books, bring them home and I may not read them, but it’s very nice to have a book.

Hare: The book will always be with us.

Schmidt: Absolutely. I really enjoy it.

Hare: I think for me, the one thing I would say too is it would be wonderful if this building could capture that element of surprise. A little unpredictable, not the same every single day forever. A change in environment so that it’s new and it’s fresh, people can come there to see “I wonder what they’re doing now, and what’s new?” So that’s a feeling that I’d like to have for the building.

Cotaras: I want it to be a great place to be. To feel comfortable. Sort of like finding a book you’ve found by serendipity, by accident, and having a coffee and sitting by the fire.

Are we getting fireplaces!?!

Cotaras: Who knows? [Everyone laughs.]

Schmidt: Don’t laugh.

Cotaras: With a good coffee shop.

Schmidt: It may even be the place where you go and have your wedding.

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