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The Maisonneuve Library building in Montreal, Canada, a neoclassical building from 1912, has been transformed without losing its identity and is considered by architecture critics as an example of a modern treatment of historic buildings.

The original building was designed at the turn of the century by Canadian architect Louis-Joseph Cajetan Dufort to house Montreal’s city hall. In 1981, the Maisonneuve Library was moved there, while in 2017 an architectural competition was announced to upgrade and expand the building to meet new needs with modern data. The competition was won by the proposal of the EVOQ group, which has notable examples in the restoration of buildings in Canada.

The bibliocentric model, which dictated the layout of libraries for most of the 20th century, is now obsolete as new libraries have taken on a different role and often function as social hubs in the communities where they are located. With this in mind, the architects redesigned Maisonneuve without altering the original building, despite the modern additions that tripled the space. Of the 1,240 square meters, it now has 3,594 to cover the needs of a constantly evolving society.

The historic building has been restored to its original splendor: The stone facades and monumental doors have been carefully restored, as have the original plaster moldings, wood paneling, mosaic floors, marble staircase and two imposing stained glass windows. Remaining the core of the complex, two modern sections made of glass and stainless steel were added to it, right and left. The alignment of the new curtain wall and the rhythm on the facade were dictated by the neoclassical colonnade of the historic building.

A clear statement of modern identity is the mode of transportation. The entrance is from the new section and users with reduced mobility can easily enter and reach the lift, with access to each floor, as well as a small terrace on the top floor. The external stone steps no longer serve their original function, but are mainly outdoor seating.

From the reception area, the audience is directed according to their interests. Children are led through a series of play spaces, while teenagers head to the second level, where various technological experiences await them such as a medialab, an animation studio and a small video game room. The two upper floors of the former town hall—as well as the upper level of the west wing—serve those seeking quiet reading and study spaces.

Although the architects complied with heritage protection regulations, at the same time they introduced electromechanical systems to the old building to maximize thermal comfort while keeping energy consumption to a minimum. Geothermal energy was a key factor in meeting the library’s heating and cooling needs.

The glazing system, with integrated solar protection, effective thermal breaks and low-emission thermal glazing units, also contributes significantly to achieving optimal performance.

The Maisonneuve Library is located on Ontario Street, an east-west axis that has undergone a radical transformation in the last decade. Some buildings of the early 20th century, such as Maisonneuve, are inspired by the City Beautiful movement.

The integration of the new library into this historically significant area was achieved through the design of the exterior spaces. A series of interventions were designed that unify the library spaces with the public ones, just as the sculpture of the artist Clément de Gaulejac in the courtyard advocates this spirit.

The library’s restoration project has received local accolades and has been described as “a beautiful dance between seasons, between exterior and interior and between active and contemplative”.

Free, 24.3.2024

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