Toronto Library will weave Indigenous customs with technology

In Toronto’s Woodbine Gardens neighborhood, a new library and community center will provide resources for those who call the area home today while simultaneously honoring the traditions, heritage and precedents of those who rightfully own the land on which it stands. find. Rising to three stories, the new building promises something special for a tired residential neighborhood marked by disjointed building scales and a diverse population. Smoke Architecture and the Indigenous, women-owned Toronto office of Perkins&Will collaborated on the project, which modernizes Indigenous architectural typologies and combines them with building technology and materials to design a new point net zero benchmark.

Located on Dawes Road between Chapman Avenue and Brenton Street in East Toronto, the Dawes Road Library and Community Hub will occupy a small footprint and replace the existing modest brick library, expanding it from 6,700 square feet to 26,300 square feet. It is one of 100 locations in the Toronto Public Library (TPL) system and the first branch to house both a library and community center under one roof, as well as the first in the system to be built within the framework of the mandate and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. , formed in response to the legacy of the residential school system.

The outside of the star cover is covered with zinc panels. (Courtesy of Perkins&Will and Smoke Architecture)

The location of the building is on Treaty Land and within the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat Nations. Accurate census data on Indigenous peoples is sparse, but according to the City of Toronto and agencies serving Indigenous communities, there are approximately 70,000 Indigenous residents in the city.

Since the first contact between Indigenous peoples and European settlers and after the establishment of residential schools, there has been an erasure of Indigenous belief systems and cultures from mainstream societal practices. With recent news stories condemning the operation of residential schools across Canada and with the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canadians of all backgrounds have become more aware of the teachings and customs of those whose lands they occupy.

“We hadn’t had Indigenous peoples as part of our awareness until very, very recently, in fact I think we were kind of persuaded to believe that Indigenous knowledge systems were dead, and they didn’t, they are very much alive. Smoke Architecture founder and principal architect Eladia Smoke told AN. “There are still elders who hold these knowledge systems, but we need to support them in their good work to pass this knowledge on to future generations before they pass it on themselves. So this is a really critical time to do this work and to support this work. And I think there’s a hunger for that stuff from ordinary Canadians to find out what we’ve been missing.

Each TPL outpost uses a 10-year capital plan that establishes regular updates. Work on the Dawes Road branch began in 2008 and in 2017 it was decided to replace the existing building with a new facility. Design work by the project team began during the pandemic.

The current library is undersized for the community it serves, which has been identified by the city as a neighborhood improvement area requiring additional services and support facilities. While a public library is inherently a communal space, the building will provide a new breadth and scope of services and outreach to the demographically diverse community in a 5,500 square foot community center through a partnership with the City of Toronto Social Development. , Finance & Administration. Among these offerings are study spaces, boardrooms, teaching kitchens, and venues for events and performances.

The Roundhouse is a traditional Aboriginal design typology. (Courtesy of Perkins&Will and Smoke Architecture)

Perkins&Will and Smoke Architecture were selected to design the project based on a competitive tender launched by TPL. Although the two companies have never collaborated before, they relied on each other’s strengths, inputs and knowledge throughout the design process. Perkins&Will brought expertise in technology and sustainability as well as experience working with TPL, while Smoke brought architectural experience grounded in a deep understanding of Indigenous knowledge. Andrew Frontini, Design Director and Director of Perkins&Will, described this working relationship as “a journey of discovery, where we enter aesthetic territory where we don’t usually go, and [Smoke] enter a kind of technical arena, where he has not been before. But the partnership kind of allowed that to happen, so it’s like this two-way learning path.

The design began with the concept of an Anishinaabe roundhouse and a Haudenosaunee longhouse. (Smoke is herself Anishinaabekwe from Obishikokaang/Lac Seul First Nation.) Circular in shape, the rotunda has traditionally been used as a place to gather and share knowledge, a theme intrinsically linked to the function of the library and community center. . A longhouse is a rectangular volume, constructed in the same way with raw materials, which serves both as a residence and as an exchange of knowledge and traditions. Passive, sustainable practices and the use of raw building materials – used for generations by Indigenous peoples – are used in contemporary design as architects find solutions to minimize the environmental impacts of building construction.

“There is a change of perspective for us, and the resumption of occupations that architects have dealt with for thousands of years, but which are new to us again,” Frontini added.

Matching Indigenous-inspired building typologies and strategies with 21st century demands and conveniences was a challenge, as historic Indigenous structures are not designed to accommodate hundreds of people and lack mechanical heating and cooling systems. cooling. Finding a balance between the two was integral to the project from the start; it had to accommodate and respect the needs of both applications.

The interior woodwork echoes the parallelograms of the star-studded cover of the exterior facade. (Courtesy of Perkins&Will and Smoke Architecture)

“We don’t want to create this kind of pan-Indigenous construction,” Susan Martin, head of capital planning and implementation at TPL, told AN. “Our idea is that by representing different characteristics of Indigenous architecture and Indigenous ways of building and being in a space that will identify those spaces as unique elements – that the roundhouse belongs to that community and that the idea of a platform build belongs to another community — so we don’t just create this merge, because that’s not really a proper way to move forward.

The mosaic pattern on the facade is a way to balance heritage and tradition with high-tech modernity. It is inspired by another indigenous community-oriented practice: the star blanket, a cloth covering traditionally given to a community member in recognition of the service they render to their community.

“The gift of a starry blanket has to do with the community coming together,” Smoke explained. “Making a star blanket is a very special undertaking. Even making one is a kind of honor for the manufacturer. To give a star blanket is to draw the attention of our ancestors, who are now stars, around a person who is doing a great job in their community.

“We envision the library being where the neighborhood will come together to do some really important work together,” she continued. “And so the star-spangled blanket honors that work.”

The community hub on the top floor of the library will accommodate various gathering spaces, including a kitchen. (Courtesy of Perkins&Will and Smoke Architecture)

Gifted objects are traditionally woven, but for this project durable zinc panels will be laid out on the facade in a quilt-like arrangement. Finalizing the model involved a meticulous technological process overseen by Perkins&Will. The designers started by exploring the form of the cover at a sculptural level, then digitized it using the LiDAR application to create and refine the digital model in Revit, which will be used by fabricators and installers of facades during construction. The design team worked in tandem with custom facade engineering firm Zahner on the design.

Inside the structure, the walls will be wrapped in warm-toned Prodema wood paneling arranged in a pattern to mimic the parallelogram shapes of the star pieces flanking the outer shell. The metaphor of the star blanket as a gift of honor recognizing important work is complemented by that of the thermal value of a blanket as something warm and insulating. The building is designed to have an extremely tight envelope, and only about one-third of the structure’s envelope is glazed. As for its thermal and energy exploitation, it will be equipped with geothermal and photovoltaic panels on the roof. The project team anticipates net zero operational carbon.

Rooftop garden equipment is a fire pit. (Courtesy of Perkins&Will and Smoke Architecture)

When the library opens in 2025, it will be a place to gather, learn, teach and share a meal. At the top of the rotunda, a roof garden will include a fire pit around which the community can gather or ceremonies can be held. (A food prep area and dining table provide another gathering spot.) The whole project is designed as a multipurpose space while providing visitors with the expected books neatly stacked on the shelves and the necessary desks and chairs to enjoy.

“Libraries have always collected different formats and format changes over many years,” Martin said. “But the kind of central idea of ​​the library as a place where the community comes together and shares ideas, regardless of format, is something that I think libraries have tried to do in stride. The challenge is to always be able to provide continuous access to the different formats over time. But this basic idea of ​​being able to provide access to information and a place to share knowledge is somehow constant, regardless of the format.

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