Maisonneuve Library

  • area / size 38,685 sqft
  • Completed 2023
  • Location Montreal, Canada,
  • EVOQ Architecture was tasked with updating and restoring the Maisonneuve Library in Montreal, Candada.

    For the last twenty years, as urban designers were busy redefining street life, architects were building—or remodeling—numerous public amenities such as theaters, sports facilities, and libraries. One striking example of this transformative process is the Maisonneuve Library, housed since 1981 in what once was a small, but prestigious city hall for the short-lived City of Maisonneuve.

    As the need to upgrade and expand the facility became more and more pressing, Montreal launched a multidisciplinary design competition in 2017. The winning team was a consortium of Montreal firms led by EVOQ Architecture and Dan Hanganu Architects (now part of EVOQ).

    A major transformation
    Officially opened in June 2023, the carefully restored 1912 building, with its glazed extensions, illustrates how the past can enrich the present, and vice versa. It was highly praised by the Québec association of librarians and archivists, Fédération des milieux documentaires, which selected the Maisonneuve Library as the winner of its 2023 Architecture Award. This recognition takes on particular value coming from the very professionals who, on a daily basis, are in close contact with libraries and their patrons.

    The book-centred archetype, which dictated the layout of libraries through most of the 20th century, no longer prevails, as recent libraries have taken on a new role and often act as social hubs in their respective communities. The Maisonneuve branch is no exception. Its transformation, which allowed it to expand from 1,240 to 3,594 square meters, provided it with an opportunity to reinvent itself and meet the needs of a more inclusive and constantly evolving society.

    One of the most important decisions taken by the architectural team was to rehabilitate the historic building and bring it back to its original splendour. The stone façades and the monumental doors were carefully restored, as were the original plaster mouldings, wood panelling, and mosaic floors. The piano nobile’s marble staircase, and its two imposing stained-glass features, were carefully repaired. The alignment of the new curtain wall and the rhythm of its brise-soleil were dictated by the historic building’s neo-classical colonnade.

    Key to the design concept was the introduction of a “tower” element off the east wing. A clear statement of the library’s contemporary identity, it contains a new vertical circulation core and serves as the library’s main entrance. Users with reduced mobility can easily enter the premises and reach the elevator, giving them full access to each floor, as well as access to a small roof terrace. The exterior stone steps no longer serve their initial function, except for rare occasions like ceremonial events. They mostly provide exterior seating for users and passersby.

    A library for everyone
    The reception area, directly accessible from the street, acts as an orientation device for the library’s different audiences. Young children are led down towards a succession of playful spaces, while teenagers head upwards to the second level, where a variety of creative amenities such as a medialab, an animation studio, and a small video games room await them. The upper two floors of the former city hall—as well as the west wing’s top level—serve a clientele looking for quiet reading and study areas. A partly cantilevered ‘silent room’, is aligned with nearby traditional balconies, overlooking Pie-IX Boulevard.

    As one approaches the west wing from the outside, an intriguing set of open bookshelves attracts attention. This live-in modular environment was designed to respond to children’s desire for adventure.

    The neighbourhood
    The Maisonneuve Library is located on Ontario Street, an east-west axis which has undergone a radical transformation over the last decade. Still standing are a few early 20th century buildings, such as the former Maisonneuve Market, inspired by the City Beautiful movement. Today, distinctive paving subtly signals the presence of these memorable buildings and is an invitation to discover them.

    The integration of the new library into this historically significant district was entrusted to civiliti, an urban design firm that formed part of the initial consortium. They designed a series of urban and landscape interventions, establishing seamless links between the library’s private grounds and the public domain. A public art sculpture by artist Clément de Gaulejac was installed in a playful court directly accessible from the children’s activity room. It stands quietly as a reminder of another era.

    Design: EVOQ Architecture
    Design Team: Gilles Prud’homme, Sylvie Peguiron, Marianne Leroux, Nathan Godlovitch, Anne-Catherine Richard, Lynda Labrecque, Alexis Charbonneau, Georges Drolet
    Photography: Adrien Williams