The latest headline-making addition to the skyline of Calgary’s East Village, a neighbourhood which seems to become more vibrant and exciting by the week, is the beautiful new Central Library. At the risk of sounding a little pretentious (or just super nerdy), libraries land really high on the list of public spaces that excite and inspire us, and moving through the new building as we prepared for the opening night event has had us feeling a little like Harry Potter on his first day at Hogwarts (is that an outdated reference, or is Harry Potter officially timeless?). Like a great art gallery or museum, a great library feels so full of potential for discovery and learning, and this one’s got that feeling in spades.

We spoke with Mary Kapusta, Director, Communications for Calgary Public Library, to learn a little more about the project. “It is a beautiful building,” Mary told us, “but it is also more than that. It is an active space that moves from ‘fun’ to ‘serious’ as you rise up through the building. There is honestly something for everyone.” We can vouch that Mary is definitely not exaggerating on this point: this incredible building houses everything from a large play structure within a 12,000 square foot Children’s Library to a Digital Learning Lab to beautiful public art pieces, including Indigenous Placemaking art installations. There’s a café and restaurant, 30+ free meeting rooms, event spaces, and, of course, a whole lot of books – 180 tonnes worth of books, to be exact. (Fun fact: This weight had to be factored into the design and construction of the building.)

This is a major project for Calgary, with big community goals and great event potential, so let’s take a quick look at the story of the new Central Library.

Chapter 1: Little city on the prairie, no more   

The story starts in a lovely but modest prairie city in 1963, when the existing Central Library was built in Calgary. In the years since, that once mid-sized city has grown in population by 350% and become one of Canada’s major centres, and that growth has resulted in the Central Library experiencing 1.1 million visits per year at present. With that number projected to grow to 2 million shortly, it’s no surprise that the current building just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Chapter 2: Great expectations

Flash forward to 2013, when the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation managed an international competition for the building design that saw the project awarded to Snøhetta and DIALOG, and kicked off a community consultation process to refine the vision for the new Central Library and incorporate the public’s feedback into the design.

The architects drew inspiration from both the tangible, like the mountains, foothills, and prairies of Calgary’s surrounding landscape, as well as the more conceptual, citing the timeless wonder and significance of libraries. The 240,000 square foot building is actually bisected by a curving LRT line, a challenge which played heavily into the building’s unique design.

The exterior shell of the building has over 460 hexagonal panels (fabricated locally in Calgary and tested at a lab in Miami) which were strategically placed and finished to prevent heat from building up inside the new Central Library. Another key architectural feature, The Archway, forms a pedestrian connection between East Village and downtown, and is framed in western red wood cedar sourced from BC. The Oculus, a central skylight, allows natural light to flood through the building.

While the stunning nature of the building itself is certainly a draw, the Calgary Public Library has some pretty big goals for the space and its connection go the public. “[Calgary Public Library’s] vision is ‘Potentials realized,’ ” Mary told us, “For the Central Library itself, it is intended as a hub for community and technology, and to inspire innovation and collaboration.”

Chapter 3: Oh, the places you’ll go

So now that your curiosity is engaged and you’re officially dying to see the building for yourself, let’s talk about how to get inside. There are of course the obvious uses of the building, and we definitely encourage you to take advantage of everything the new Central Library has on offer as a library and public space. But in addition, there are some great opportunities for events that we, for one, are very excited about.

There are five event spaces available:

  • BMO Financial Group Community Room is an 80-person room well-suited to and fully equipped for meetings or other private gatherings.
  • Performance Hall is a beautiful two-level, 484 square foot space that takes advantage of the building’s largest window display.
  • O-13 and 0-14 are 50-person meeting rooms that can be used seperately or booked together, again equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
  • Shaikh Family Welcome Gallery is the main entrance of the building, and the beauty of this 5,000 space makes it a great new option for special events held after-hours.

We’ve been lucky enough to already work in this new space for the grand opening gala, so if you’ve got questions about its potential or are just curious about our experience, get in touch!

The chance to be a part of landmark moments in our city like this one is one of the reasons we feel so lucky to work in the events industry. We’re excited and honoured to help to welcome the new Central Library to Calgary with Lit Gala, which will support the big dreams that the team at Calgary Public Library have for the new building and its impact on our community. Check back here next week for an exclusive look inside the gala, and make sure you visit the new Central Library, post haste.

Old Central Library photo credit: Calgary Public Library Website
New Central Library photo credits: