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Runnymede Branch Library (1930, 2005)

29 Feb 2016
Image Credit: Photo courtesy of Toronto Archives, 1930
Architectural Credit: John M. Lyle (1930) and G. Bruce Stratton Architects (2005)
Like many other building types, libraries are constantly facing ever-changing needs, needing frequent improvements and upgrades in order to integrate new technologies and uses. While each renovation presents its own unique challenges and opportunities, renovations to beloved heritage structures are particularly complex. The question then is how do you update a historically and culturally significant work of architecture while still respecting its original character? The story of the Runnymede Branch Library presents us with some interesting answers.
Located in Bloor West Village, the Runnymede Branch Library is one of Toronto’s greatest architectural treasures. In fact, the library’s architecture is so widely respected that it was featured in a 1989 special series of stamps known as the Canadian Architecture Series produced by Canada Post. The original 1930s building was designed by famed architect John M. Lyle. Lyle was also the architect behind other Toronto icons such as the Royal Alexandra Theatre (1907) and Union Station (1915-1927). During the 1920s, in a time of growing Canadian nationalism, Lyle sought to create a uniquely Canadian architecture that blended European styles with Canadian themes. The Runnymede Branch Library is a product of that quest, drawing on eclectic architectural elements and ornamental motifs from English, French, and First Nations cultures to create a distinctively Canadian building. Its steeply pitched roof is reminiscent of early Quebec architecture, while totem poles greet visitors at the entrance from Bloor Street. 
As with many libraries, the Runnymede library has been subject to numerous renovations, including a 1979 renovation by Stinson Montgomery Sisam Architects, and most recently a 2005 renovation and addition by G. Bruce Stratton Architects. These renovations have helped keep the beloved library up to date, while also helping restore and maintain the original heritage structure. In this post on our special series on Ontario’s libraries, G. Bruce Stratton Architects shares with us how they addressed the challenge of updating and expanding this national architectural treasure while respecting its original character.

Photo courtesy of G. Bruce Stratton Architects
From the architects:
Buildings with historic and cultural significance often need improvements in order to maintain their relevance as functioning elements of the built environment.  Runnymede Branch Library is a perfect example.  Much more than a warehouse for books, the modern library requires "state of the art" amenities, "barrier free" accessibility and diversified programming facilities.  
When Runnymede Branch Library first opened its doors, it was marked by extraordinary design controversy.  While a clear division of spaces and a residential character allowed it to immerse itself in its Bloor Street West neighbourhood, an avant-garde edge surfaced in the bas-relief details.  They were predominantly of Canadian flora, fauna, and First Nations motifs - a radical departure from the neo-classical design style typical for this kind of public building.
The challenge in designing a renovation and an addition to this building was to retain the prominence of the original work without resorting to architectural mimicry.  Our solution involved the use of many of the same exterior materials (Credit Valley stone and copper) complementing the existing building, yet creating an addition which is contemporary in design. Views from the street and park were also considerations in the process.

Photo courtesy of G. Bruce Stratton Architects
The design of the project has included several measures intended to reduce the environmental impact of the building.  These steps include the use of locally produced stone and brick cladding, energy efficient lighting and mechanical systems that take advantage of natural ventilation through operable windows.  Interior finishes include carpet with recycled content, latex paints, and domestic maple veneer.  The renovated areas have also retained many of the original materials. 

Photo courtesy of G. Bruce Stratton Architects
Architecture is always about serving functional needs, but it is also about creating dynamic and beautiful interior and exterior spaces for community enjoyment.  We believe Runnymede Library has been successful in achieving these ideals, equally celebrating the original architecture as well as the new addition. 

Photo courtesy of G. Bruce Stratton Architects
The renovation was awarded an OAA Design Excellence award in 2007 for its architectural merits. The jury noted the addition's sensitivity to the old heritage structure and its ability to establish a dialogue with the past without copying it.

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