Aylmer’s new green library?
Now that Gatineau has told us there will be a new library built – without a fourth floor – to replace the structurally-questionable Place des pionniers, it is worth our time to turn our attention to that new building.
Others may wish to challenge this decision of the City, and that’s commendable ... but, too often, due to extended planning, we the public get stuck with only a last-minute discussion of plans and designs, which is no discussion at all.
So if there is to be a new library structure, let’s make sure it fulfils as many tasks as possible, not the minimum number – especially in terms of architectural integration. If we all acknowledge the architectural (and historical) heritage of Old Aylmer, let’s do more than just pay it lip service, while we built another steel and glass “showpiece”.
We can be encouraged by Mayor Pedneaud-Jobin’s remarks: the new building must fit the old town’s architectural heritage. Our mayor has shown a welcomed interest in urban design (for example, his vote to delay the Vanier super-corner project; his support of rapid transit and concern for urban congestion).
Unfortunately, public architecture has its problems. These days, every city has strikingly innovative buildings –but these few obscure the off-the-shelf designs that dominate everything else. Steel and glass are architectural novelties from the 1950s (earlier if we count early Bauhaus design.)
Steel & glass is a wonderful concept for many buildings, and it has been cleanly morphed into home design as well. But, by itself, it is the style of globalisation. Its design fits in Singapore and in Sarnia – and it tells us as much. This uniformity is not what heritage preservation is all about, but almost the opposite. (Hence, Imperatif français might consider getting involved in this design debate.)
Steel & glass supporters will argue that ready-made designs save the city a lot of money – and that they show Gatineau as a modern, forward-looking city, open to the world, investor-appreciative, friendly and transparent. They fear that “heritage” can come to mean “no change”; they will refer to striking a balance between historical heritage and “future heritage” – in our library’s design.
There is today a new force, the imperative to act on climate change. It floods down into urban design. There are well-established green building norms, LEED for one. These are modern – ultra-modern, as they can be designed to fit any environment, historical or futuristic. This is creative work, applying green standards appropriate to each neighbourhood. And there are even buildings which can produce enough electricity to export to the grid.
The mayor has set the bar – ‘heritage, not faux moderne’ – but that bar is not high. Shouldn’t we make our library a well-integrated tool in climate-change mitigation, plus a showpiece which attracts visitors and broadcasts Gatineau-Aylmer’s capacity to innovate and grow? This is an opportunity, if we’re ready for it.