Surely the most significant thing about VPL’s opening of the top two floors and roof on the Central branch is the fulfilment of the original vision for Library Square.

Moshe Safdie, the architect, always intended the roof decks to be publicly accessible.  But the financial contribution of the Province was dependent on the leasing of the upper floors, to remain separate from the rest of the institution.  That lease has ended, and now another design of Vancouver’s greatest landscape architect is finally part of the public realm.  Cornelia Oberlander has to her credit the landscaping of Canada Place, Robson Square and the Museum of Anthropology, among many others.  It’s only right that the VPL should join that list.

Though the main part of the garden will still be out of sight, literally a roof garden, the public seating spaces and plantings below combine with the architecture to provide a complete composition.

There are actually three distinct spaces over two floors, each with its own ambiance, light and view.  They are perfect places for get-togethers with a few friends, or simply to sit with, yes, a good book and your own thoughts.

Even better, some of these urban rooms will be able to host gatherings and staged events, indoors or out, while allowing other parts of the roof to be used at the same time for other purposes – each with its own dramatic backdrop.

One thing for sure: there had better be a coffee kiosk, and the coffee better be good.



  1. It’s wonderful to at last see the final completion of Library Square’s original vision by Moshe Safdie with Cornelia Oberlander’s landscape design. I was the City’s Senior Architect/Urban Designer on this project-my principal function in this instance being to ensure this team, along with local architects DA (Downs/ Archambault), was given a free hand to be able to execute their exemplary design through the competition, rezoning and development permit processes. This included having to explain to some highly placed skeptics, who should have known better, the design’s wealth of attributes at so many levels of urban design, architecture and landscape architecture. Design matters.
    I can only hope that Herzog/deMeuron’s preliminary design for the new Vancouver Art Gallery across Georgia St. has evolved from its initial imagery to be worthy of its place of prominence on Vancouver’s premiere street.

    1. I agree that design matters. So does public space. And the design process on major public projects.

      Very few architects or architectural criticisms I read at the time, including from the venerable international Architectural Record, were kind to the cheesy reference to the Roman Coliseum in the VPL facade, or to Safdie’s rather arrogant comment that he “gave Vancouver a history.” In fact, AR magazine, which was published world-wide, made the VPL the central feature of its Outrage page the month it opened based solely on the childish PoMo facade treatment.

      The project also avoided any further professional level of architectural or design discourse once three designs were short-listed. The other two conceptual designs were outstanding and, like Safdie’s proposal, met all the library programming objectives while also offering Vancouver highly original designs with regional referencing, unlike Safdie’s proposal. Richard Henriquez offered more of a process than a design where the final form would have evolved from a deep analysis of regional history and all its layers. At least one other model clearly articulated a better, less hostile and much warmer human-scaled treatment of the ground plane, which is public space that is just as important as interior floor plates, as well as an urban design more in keeping with the iconography of Vancouver.

      Then Gordon Campbell intervened and took the models on what critic Trevor Boddy called a “mall crawl,” or a bait and switch from an otherwise excellent design competition process up to that point that was appropriated by a politician before the judges could conduct a proper technical and design analysis. In essence, a $200 million public asset was yanked from a professional competition and subjected to a popularity contest where Disneyland-in-the-desert prevailed over any intelligent discourse on the meaning of architecture in Vancouver.

      Thankfully the facade is thin, and the references to Rome disappear once inside. The VPL is an essential pubic asset even with its immature exterior design reference, and I use it weekly. Ellipses are not hard, and are rather unique in a city full of rectangles. But Rome in Vancouver? That is an insult, as if our 14,000 year-old indigenous and more recent Euro and unique local Modernist precedences and geography never existed.

      Lastly, the entire design competition process for major public facilities in this town needs to be shaken up. The library saw a politician monkey in a design competition process. He went on to monkey in several other projects that resulted in mistakes, flaws and cost overruns the public now has to live with for decades. The Canada Line and West Convention Centre come to mind. The most recent example is the VAG where one individual controlled everything, then sprang a controversial art museum design fait accompli onto an unsuspecting public which remains the major shareholder. No competition was proposed.

      Design competition policy needs to be imposed on these projects where a more professional, neutral board of knowledgable judges render recommendations based on an extensive, in-depth technical and design analysis without interference by politicians, bureaucrats and others who have no expertise in architecture or the functions of the building. Everything about these facilities is all about architecture. So why not let panels of architects conduct a process based on defined best practices and their expertise, with input from those with the best knowledge of the programming requirements, and with better public consultation methods?

  2. Gordon I had the exact same thought! The place would be completed with a little espresso bar (where there are two vending machines now) and it would really encourage people to come up here for a chat and enjoy the space. I’ve always thought Vancouver was overly protective of allowing commercial uses within public spaces. In most European cities the little coffee kiosk in the park enhances the public space, not takes away from it if done properly.

  3. Alex’s observations are spot on – we had hoped the example of this deeply flawed design competition more than 20 years ago would have resulted in a stronger, independent, and well used architectural competition process championed by our local Architectural Institute of British Columbia – sadly that hasn’t happened. One only needs to look to Quebec to see the rich, varied and locally relevant built results of their rigorous open architectural competition system developed by the OAQ architectural association in conjunction with the province.

  4. I look forward to seeing the rooftop garden, but hardly ever go downtown. I certainly wouldn’t drive there, and don’t take transit, so that leaves my usual default option – a bicycle. But where to park? This is one of the highest bike theft areas in the city. How long would my Brooks B73 saddle last?
    I’d rather go to Strathcona gardens for a green experience.
    I’ve never liked the interior of this VPL. The escalators are horrible – rumbling incessantly in the middle. Awful things. Mall worthy.
    And having librarians at the head of each escalator. I’m sure they’d like to be somewhere quieter. A few direct phone lines to them for the ignorant or lazy would make everyone happier and would be more cost effective. The whole system could be handled remotely. From Hyderabad.
    I don’t understand the library’s broadcast model of internet terminals either. They should be stacked logically. It gives the library the illusion of being busier than it is – people circling around looking for a station – like motorists looking for parking.

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