New 'warship' design for downtown Edmonton library tanks on social media

The downtown library’s new, futuristic look has some Edmontonians wondering if the city is preparing for battle or hunkering down for a nuclear disaster.

EPL set to take possession in late September ahead of grand opening in February

The new design for the Stanley A. Milner Library is drawing some less-than-rave reviews on social media. (Janice Johnston/CBC)

The downtown library's new look has some Edmontonians wondering if the city is preparing for battle.

Social media channels erupted with a barrage of bad reviews for the remodelled Stanley A. Milner Library, which has been closed since 2016 for extensive renovations. 

Much of the commentary about the renovated building overlooking Sir Winston Churchill Square compare it to a wartime bunker, a battleship or a military tank — and a far cry from the original architectural renderings that showed a shimmering white-and-metallic facade adorned with a cascade of tiny windows. 

Some critics compared the building's new grey and angular design to a shipping container or a landlocked cruise ship.

Others suggested the "menacing" building might serve as headquarters for a villain from a James Bond movie. 

The design, which continues to take shape over the summer construction season, appeared to come as a surprise to many Edmontonians.

Judging a library by its cover

Mayor Don Iveson said "criticism is a summer sport here in Edmonton" and people should reserve judgment until construction is complete.

"We've focused on building a really extraordinary library on the inside, and staying within budget to the extent possible, even though some serious structural challenges were encountered during the construction," he said. "The priority is on the inside of the space and I think people will fall in love with that as they tend to when these libraries open."

The Edmonton Public Library is set to take possession of the building in late September before the grand opening in February 2020. And yes, they've seen all the tweets.

Pilar Martinez, CEO of the library, said people need to remember they haven't seen the finished product.

"There's windows that are covered with plastic," she said. "It's not alive, the lights aren't on, the surfaces aren't established. So I think you will definitely see a change once it opens in February of 2020."

"I urge people to give us a chance. What they're going to experience inside is going to be amazing."

The original price tag for renovating the 52-year-old building was $62.5 million, but the cost of the transformation ballooned to $84.9 million after structural problems were discovered during construction.

There's been three iterations of the design, Pilar said. The first focused almost exclusively on the exterior, while the second was too expensive. The third and final design upgrades both the exterior and interior on a tight budget, Pilar said.

Trevor Boddy, an architecture critic and historian, said it's common for a new building to receive public criticism before it officially opens. 

"It's not open yet, you can't go in, you can't use it  — so all you can do is form an opinion on the shell, " said Boddy. "I think it's often a sign of a really good building that there's a fuss at this stage."

Boddy noted that Calgary's new library faced similar criticism before it opened but now receives praise for its design. 

A rendering shows the design of the Stanley A. Milner Library, which is set to open on Feb. 14, 2020. (Edmonton Public Library)

What do you think of the library's new look? Let us know in the comment section below. 


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