When it opened at the end of April, 2005, the Grande Bibliothèque defied expectations when it attracted tens of thousands of people who were eager to check out its airy architecture and multimedia, multilingual collection. The crowds never let up: even today, two and a half years later, a visit to the library reveals an always-crowded place enjoyed by a large cross-section of Montreal’s population. It is, quite clearly, Montreal’s most important public building of the past three decades.
There’s just one problem: shortly after it opened, big chunks of the green-glass cladding popped out and fell onto the street below. Temporary safety barriers were erected while the library, city, borough and province all squabbled over how best to deal with the situation. Now, finally, a permanent plan has emerged: decorative planters, fences and awnings will be built around the library to protect pedestrians should any more pieces of glass fall. The work will start next spring and finish by July.
Without any renderings, I can’t say what effect this will have on the library’s architecture. It will at least be improvement over the status quo. But what I’m curious about is whether or not this will finally enable the library to deal with its western flank facing Savoie Avenue, a small laneway in between Berri and St. Denis. When it was built, you see, the library was conceived as being open to all of its surroundings. This building has no back end: there are entrances on all four sides of the building.
Savoie was given a particularly special treatment. Along with a nice entrance bearing the inscription “Vous êtes ici,” the library faces this alley with a succession of shallow retail spaces. According to promotional material during the library’s construction, these spaces were originally intended to be leased to vendors to create a book market along Savoie. Last spring, the city renovated the alley, installing attractive concrete paving stones and new lampposts, possibly in anticipation of the market.
With the falling-glass problem, that plan was shelved, but now that an awning will be build along this side of the library, I don’t see any reason why it can’t be put into action. Let’s hope that, by next summer, the Grande Bibliothèque will finally be able to live up to its full potential.
Tags: Laneways, Libraries, Market, Montreal, Urban Design