York Woods Library & Theatre

  • area / size 20,650 sqft
  • Completed 2023
  • Location Toronto, Canada,
  • Diamond Schmitt Architects was tasked with creating a space to benefit the neighborhood with the York Woods Library & Theater in Toronto, Canada.

    The transformation of the York Woods Library is an important cornerstone for the Jane Finch community, and demonstrates how design can be used to support a neighbourhood’s socio-economic diversity.

    The new York Woods Library and Theatre responds to the socio-economic needs of the Jane Finch community that goes beyond the traditional library lending model. Designed by Diamond Schmitt, the revitalized facility’s importance within the neighbourhood is amplified through a thoughtful renovation and expansion that brings important social and cultural infrastructure to an underserved part of the city. The new design retains and embraces the original Brutalist library and brick and mortar theatre buildings, while opening it up to create a connected and welcoming Community Hub.

    Originally designed by Thomas Ibronyi Architect, the York Woods Library and Theatre has undergone a number of renovations and developments since its opening in 1970. Most recently, in 2010, noticing a shift in demographic needs, the Community Arts Hub and programming room were added.

    Despite its architectural and programmatic separations, the district library has become an important centre for the community over the years. With the neighbourhood needing safe public spaces and parks, it serves as a primary meeting place for youth to gather after school for socializing, studying and to engage in support programs.

    Diamond Schmitt’s transformation greets patrons through a new 2000 sf double-height glass entrance pavilion topped by a prismatic timber roof. It is approached via a linear pathway and sensitive landscaping that streamlines the library’s and theatre’s entrances through a main welcoming hall and visitor’s desk, creating new architectural clarity and wayfinding for users. This design decision improves flow and provides a new light-filled multi-purpose space for public gatherings, formal and informal events, and offers passersby a glimpse at the happenings within.

    The heart of the transformation is the renovation of the two-storey library. The original four square plan and siloed floors impeded vertical circulation which was only possible through a set of fire escape stairs at the library’s core. The new scheme opens up the space with a two-storey transparent interconnected atrium and amphitheatre staircase which improves orientation and creates a sense of place. This gesture not only enhances physical circulation, visual and acoustic connections, creating a safer space, it also offers opportunities for seating and casual gathering, providing a more inclusive environment.

    Responding to the community’s need for safe public spaces and infrastructure, the revitalized York Woods Library provides multiple flexible use zones, along with new and transparent program areas. A Digital Innovation Hub, Teaching Lab, Musical Instrument Lending Library, KidsStop and Children’s Middle Years Discovery Zone are organized on the corners of the ground floor, making them easily accessible to kids and youth. On the second floor, the four squares are each dedicated to different types of work and collaboration, with two large study rooms on the north- and south-east side corners, and the E-learning Centre and Youth Hub on the north- and south-west corners.

    Interior spaces retain the exposed poured concrete beams and pre-cast double-tee concrete slabs of the Brutalist structure, but have been softened with wood and vibrant acoustic panels, adding warmth. Colour and texture have been used to animate the concrete interiors, while organic material palettes and forms are expressed in the furniture pieces. These include a variety of seating and work areas throughout—from counter seating, to meeting rooms, lounge chairs, and study carrels—positioned to take advantage of views towards the adjacent ravine and neighbourhood. Glazing along the interior overlooks the new atrium and library, offering open sightlines and transparency, creating further connections with the surroundings and library activities.

    The York Woods Library and Theatre is also only one of two Toronto Public Libraries in the city that includes a fully-equipped performing arts theatre to support various educational and community activities. Thus, the renewal also includes the renovation and modernization of the theatre interiors which feature new lobby and entrance areas with flexible uses for pre- and post-event functions to further bolster the facility’s cultural offerings.

    York Woods Library and Theatre is positioned within a rapidly evolving area of the city which includes associated urban development, and the introduction of mass transit. Recognizing the facility’s importance within the neighbourhood, the revitalized and expanded building has been designed to truly support the residents of Jane and Finch. The new York Woods Library and Theatre offers a place where children, youth and adults alike, can engage in different programs, receive the educational support they need, and socially and creatively thrive.

    Design: Diamond Schmitt Architects
    Photography: Lisa Logan