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2005 10 03
Patkau Wow

I was likely supposed to be knocked out by the huge volume of space and light that is the front hall/reception area at Patkau Architect's new Grande Bibliothèque in Montréal. I was meant to be embraced by the warmth of wood, the glow of light from a late fall afternoon, and I was to be inspired by the throngs of busy researchers glimpsed through a gigantic wooden screen.

But my first contact with the building was of a temporary canvas tarp. All the entrances of the building have been infected by a marquee virus--white carnival tents sit in front of every entrance for some unkown purpose. Were they keeping the rain out? My second experience of the library was seeing a long queue of people being waited upon by library staff. Librarians were busily engaged in signing people up for new library cards, and were thus stationed at temporarily installed conference-type tables piled high with computers. The lucky few clients whose numbers had been called were seated at folding card chairs.

How is it that a brand new building needs carnival tents at its entrances and triage approaches to administration? Five years in the making, and ninety seven million dollars spent, it is VERY unlikey that the architects intended these features to part of their design. In describing their project, Patkau Architects speak of these highly public areas in the following way: "Between the wooden rooms and exterior skin are rich and complex spaces that reflect the diversity of the program, through a variety of light conditions, scales of spaces, and unexpected adjacencies." Unexpected adjacencies indeed.

Humans and architecture don't always have the same agenda. Frequently, the needs of a building do not comply with the needs of the people who use it. (eg. Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings were notorious leakers). I am not proposing a polemic for the case of function over art here, because it is in this conflicted zone--frequently identified in dichotomous terms as 'aesthics' vs. 'pragmatism'--that the most interesting aspects of a city are played out.

Maybe I did miss the big 'wow' effect at Patkau Architect's new Grande Bibliothèque in Montréal. But then again, I think that missing the point IS the point of cities and their buildings.
[email this story] Posted by David Ross on 10/03 at 05:08 PM

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