Schmidt Hammer Lassen, Fowler Bauld & Mitchell

Nova Scotia, Canada



For a little city, Halifax, the capital of the province of Nova Scotia, has no shortage of bragging rights. The biggest urban area in Atlantic Canada with a large and strategically located harbor, it is a major economic center for the region—fueled by port commerce, shipbuilding, government services, and higher education, among other industries. Nevertheless, in recent years, there has been a dearth of civic investment in this city of 400,000. So the opening in December of the new Halifax Central Library, a syncopated stack of glass boxes designed by Danish firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen (SHL), with Fowler Bauld & Mitchell (FBM) as executive architects, has been a big deal for the people here.

The former facility, the 38,000-square-foot Spring Garden Road Memorial Library (now empty), catty-corner to the new library, dates to 1951 and was deemed inadequate in almost every way, from obsolete systems to limited accessibility. Various studies pointed to the need for new municipal facilities in the urban core. “A clear vision emerged,” says Judith Hare, the CEO of Halifax Public Libraries from 1996 to 2013. “The public wanted a civic landmark that would contribute to the economic well-being of downtown—an accessible, adaptable resource center that would continue to meet future needs.” SHL and FBM were selected from a short list in 2010. Meanwhile, an extensive series of public forums helped shape the design as it developed. The significance of this facility cannot be overstated. “No recent public development comes close to the scale and importance of the library,” says Hare.

The 130,000-square-foot building reads as an assemblage of five volumes atop one another, each slightly cranked on a bias. Shaped by public input, the design also responds to its context. Rather than bringing the library right up to the edge of Spring Garden Road—a main shopping thoroughfare—the architects pushed it back, creating a public plaza and aligning the main facade with Dalhousie University's 1908 academic building next door. Then they pulled out the top floor as a cantilever, which nods to Halifax's maritime heritage by pointing to Citadel Hill and its historic fort to the north, with the volume's other end oriented toward the harbor, to the south. The twisting of the boxes is informed by the adjacent Queen Street and a pedestrian path. Both routes run on a diagonal, and their meeting point, if they continued, would be at the site. “Many see the building as referring to a stack of books,” says Morten Schmidt, founding partner of SHL. “It's a good reference, but the form has more to do with the urban grid and these crossed lines.”

The building, which is targeting LEED Gold, employs green roofs, rainwater harvesting, and a heat-recovery system in combination with chilled beams and slabs. By making a thermally tight envelope with super-insulated glass spandrel panels, the architects were able to use vision glass for 47 percent of the curtain wall, connecting the inside to the active street life, points out FBM president George Cotaras. The glazing creates a coherent surface across the library, which is punctuated by an orange volume colored by a ceramic dot frit. Abundant daylight floods in from a skylight atop the fourth level and through the north and south elevations down into a dramatic atrium—spanned by zigzagging stairs—that visually connects the various programmed spaces. With this transparency, light, and clear circulation and sight lines, says Schmidt, “We brought the same approach we use for projects in Scandinavia. We call it democratic architecture: creating a sense of openness, inviting everyone into the building and letting them feel they own it.”

With the trend of libraries' functioning as community centers as well as places of scholarship, the Halifax Central Library has a range of facilities—from cafés to recording studios, learning labs, and booth-like pods nestled among the book shelves. And it offers everything from cooking classes to 3-D printing and English as a Second Language workshops.

On a bright January morning, the library buzzed: toddlers and caregivers came for a drop-in, students camped out with laptops and coffee, and a group of seniors from nearby Faith Tabernacle Church rested in the lobby's reading lounge. English teacher Sarah MacVicar had brought her junior high class from Musquodoboit Harbour, 30 miles away. Remarking that the kids did not often get to the city, she said she brought them “hoping to open their minds to what can be offered at a library.” Clean-lined and welcoming, the building combines a lot of program in one cohesive package. And with a strong sense of connectedness, both through the interiors and to the surrounding city, it has quickly filled a void as a vital community hub. “It's not just a place you go to read books and get literacy,” points out Schmidt. “It's where you can use your hands, engage with art, music—all these things that are so important for a modern human being.”

Halifax Central Library
Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
Stop Motion Video of Construction


Formal name of building:
Halifax Central Library

5440 Spring Garden Road, Halifax, NS, Canada

Completion Date:
November, 2014

Gross square footage:
161,424 GSF

Total construction cost:
CAD $57.6 Total Project Budget, broken down as:
CAD $43,390,000 Hard Construction Costs
CAD $3,010,000 FF&E (shelving, furniture, specialty lighting, signage, A/V, self-checkouts, etc.)
CAD $11,200,000 Soft Costs: design fees, construction management fees, surveying, insurances, commissioning, testing, snow removal, etc.

Halifax Regional Municipality/ Halifax Public Libraries

Design architects
schmidt hammer lassen architects
Njalsgade 17, Pakhus 2
2300 Copenhagen S
T +45 70 20 19 00
F +45 70 20 19 07

Architects and Prime Consultant
Fowler Bauld & Mitchell Ltd. Architecture & Interiors
HS1-1660 Hollis Street, Halifax NS B3J 1V7
PO Box 514, Halifax NS B3J 2R7
Telephone: (902) 429-4100
Fax: (902) 423-3063

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Morten Schmidt, MAA, ARB, RIBA, AIA, Founding Partner, schmidt hammer lassen architects

Chris Hardie, Architect, ARB, RIBA, Partner, schmidt hammer lassen architects

George Cotaras, Architect, NSAA, OAA, MRAIC, President & General Manager Fowler Bauld & Mitchell Ltd.

Wayne Duncan, B.Arch., Vice President, Fowler Bauld & Mitchell Ltd.

Interior designer: schmidt hammer lassen architects and Fowler Bauld & Mitchell Ltd.

Structural: SNC Lavalin Inc., Ove Arup (Concept Design)
Mechanical: CBCL Limited, Ove Arup (Concept Design)
Electrical: CBCL Limited, Ove Arup (Concept Design)
Civil: SNC Lavalin Inc.

Landscape: Gordon Ratcliffe Landscape Architect
Public Consultation: Myrgan Inc.
Sustainability: Solterre Design
Acoustics: Swallow Acoustic Consultants Ltd.
Building Code: RJ Bartlett Engineering Ltd.
Curtain Wall: BVDA Façade Engineering Ltd.
Wind & Snow Environmental: Theakston Environmental Consulting Engineers
Theatre Design: Theatre Consulting Group Ltd.
Third Party Commissioning: FC O'Neill Scriven & Assoc. Ltd.

Adam M'rk, Tel.: +45 2625 6560


130,000 square feet

Project Cost:

$46 million

Construction Cost:

$35 million



Concrete Supplier: Quality Concrete
Concrete Formwork: PCL Construction
Concrete Finishing: Precision Concrete Services

Structural Steel: Cherubini Metal Works

Curtain Wall: Cgi Contract Glaziers (Schuco: UCC 65 SG; Prelco: Sealed Glazing Units & Applied Frit)
Metal Wall System: Markland Associates Ltd. (Vic West: AD300R)
Soffits: Cgi-Ontario Panalization (Alcotex: Alcotex Composite Alum Panels)

2 Ply Mod Bit Roofing: McCarthy's Roofing Limited (Soprema)
Protected Membrane: McCarthy's Roofing Limited (Henry Bakor)
Vegetative Green Roof: McCarthy's Roofing Limited (Columbia Green Technologies)
Podium Membrane Roof: Duron Atlantic Ltd. (Hydrotech Membrane Corp.)

Spray Foam Insulation: Victory Insulators (PFSI: Polarfoam Soya 7300; Grace Construction Products: Monokote Z3306)

Doors & Windows:
Doors & Hardware: Coastal Door Frame Inc.
Interior Glass Screens: Markland Associates Ltd. (C.R. Laurence)

Passenger Elevators: ThyssenKrupp Elevator (Synery 100)
Freight Elevator: ThyssenKrupp Elevator (TIME)
Passenger Shuttle Elevator: ThyssenKrupp Elevator (AMEE Oildraulic Elevator)

Interior Finishes:
Interior Masonry: Darim Masonry (Blok-Lok/Shaw Brick: various products)
Miscellaneous Metals: RKO Steel Ltd.
Gypsum Board Partitions: Tartan Drywall Ltd. (CertainTeed: various products; Georgia Pacific: Dens Armor Plus)
Suspended Ceilings: Tartan Drywall Ltd. (CertainTeed: T-Bar Ceilings; Armstrong World Ind. Inc.: Custom Metal Baffle Ceiling; Owens Corning: Acoustic Blanket Insulation)
Glass Railings: Markland Associates Ltd. (C.R. Laurence)
Wood Flooring: Floors Plus (Kahrs International: Oak Valois)
Ceramic Tile: Royal Floors & Surfaces (Elegant Flooring: Clasica & Bellvita; Mapei & Keisel: Mortars & Grouts; Schluter Systems: various trims)
Carpet Tile: Royal Floors & Surfaces (Interface: Concrete Mix Collection)
Rubber Flooring: Commercial Carpet (Johnsonite Inc.: Folio Rubber Floor)
Sheet Flooring: Commercial Carpet (Forbo: Marmoleum Piano)
Washroom Accessories: Rodney Enterprises Limited (American Specialties, Inc.)
Operable Partitions: Rodney Enterprises Limited (Moderco: Signature 8600)
Acoustic Panels: Tartan Drywall Ltd. (FabriFinish Acoustical Ltd.: Panel Core & Rotofast)
Toilet Partitions: Rodney Enterprises Limited (Decolam: Prestige Toilet Partitions)
Lockers: Rodney Enterprises Limited (ALB Industries: Delta Plus Lockers) Painting: Twin City Painting (1979) Limited (PPG Paints: various products)
Collection Shelving: Ven-Rez Products Ltd. (Lustrum AB)
Window Shades: Floors Plus (Hunter Douglas: Manual and motorized shades)
Retractable Seating: Performance Solutions (SDR Seating)
Stage Lighting: Christie Lites
Millwork: Mill-Right Woodworking Inc.
Signage: Eye Catch Signs International
Specialty Lighting: Graybar Canada (CSA Enterprises Ltd.: LZF Global Lighting & LeLampiste)

Site Work:
Landscaping: Crossman Construction Ltd.
Site Furnishings: Personal Care Landscaping (Landscape Forms: Benches, tables and seats)
Site Plantings: Tracey’s Landscaping
Site Lighting: G.J. Cahill & Co. Ltd. (C.S.A. Enterprises Ltd.: Bega Lights; C.&G. Carandini: Pechina LED fixtures)

Mechanical Electrical A/V:
Atlantica Mechanical
Easco Electric Limited
3D Data Comm Inc.