Edmonton

Edmonton library architect defends design against social-media critics

The architect behind the Stanley A. Milner Library renovation in downtown Edmonton says he's perplexed at the criticism on social media of the building's design.

'You're not seeing the whole picture just yet. I'm pretty confident. We think it's going to be stunning'

A rendering of the Stanley A. Milner Library from May 2018 (Edmonton Public Library)

The architect behind the Stanley A. Milner Library renovation in downtown Edmonton says he's perplexed at the criticism on social media of the building's design.

"Some of [the tweets] are a little hurtful," says Stephen Teeple, president of Toronto-based Teeple Architects.

"It's strange because it's a project we're particularly proud of. It's very dynamic, very beautiful both outside and in."

The library, which is nearing the end of a three-year renovation, recently became a target for ridicule, with even Britain's BBC taking notice.

Teeple isn't a stranger to criticism. 

While the company was praised for projects like the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in northwest Alberta and Edmonton's Clareview recreation centre, an earlier project the company worked on — though not as the design architect — the Grad House at the University of Toronto, was hotly divisive.

Much of the criticism of the city's main library centres on the building's cladding, which some say is darker than in the original architectural renderings, as well as its rigid lines, comparable to a military battleship or tank, according to some.

While the barbs may sting, the attention should be considered a good thing, Teeple said. 

"To me, it means that striking nature of the design and the dynamic nature of it is bringing it into the public consciousness. 

"The fact that it's a fairly powerful sculptural form is making it register in a way it didn't before."

The Stanley Milner Library as seen on July 18. The library renovation, which will be complete in September, has been a target for Twitter critics. (Ryan Vanner/CBC)

Teeple said the team looked at different cladding, some "more expensive, more beautiful," but settled within budget for Azengar zinc.

Azengar is a brand name for a high-end zinc cladding, advertised by its manufacturer as "the most matte and lightest shade of zinc on the market … which catches natural light and gives projects a timeless appearance."

The actual cladding is lighter than in the architectural renderings and online photos, Teeple said.

"I think that's just someone posting a bad photograph actually. I have a photograph right on my cellphone that looks amazing of almost the same corner and I just snapped it quickly walking by.

The cladding is a newer product, he said, especially for Canada. 

"I would say, perhaps, people here are not used to European materials like the Azengar zinc," Teeple said. 

"It's new and different. People might associate it with more industrial buildings ... even though in Europe it would be seen as a pretty high-end, nice finish material."

Zinc cladding also has thermal and reflective properties, allowing the building to meet international standards for sustainable buildings. 

The interior of the library, seen here in early May, will be dynamic and beautiful, architect Stephen Teeple says. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Teeple insists much of the criticism is premature and in the end the new library will fit in nicely with the other buildings near Winston Churchill Square.

"The cover of the book is very important, but it's part of a deeper composition. The library reaches out to the corner, it draws one in and there's a very dynamic flow of space in and through the library."

The main floor will be largely transparent with a section remaining open to the outside for long hours of the day, Teeple said.

"Part of the idea is that the public space of the city ... will flow right through the library," he said. "You're not seeing just how that works yet, but it will become apparent.

"You're not seeing the whole picture just yet. I'm pretty confident. We think it's going to be stunning."

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