at the northwest corner of
unpretentious, colourful hub of activity. However, this humble library branch holds a secret pedigree that elevates it above the
twenty-two other branch libraries in
Collingwood branch was designed by two celebrated British Columbian architects and could be the most important examples
of Modernist architecture found in
twentieth century, modernist buildings are characterized by its cubic shapes, clean lines, and unembellished exteriors.
Confounding the argument for preserving Modernist buildings is the fact that some have not aged very well; the superficial
response is an insensitive renovation or even demolition. However, when designed with an architect’s discerning eye,
modernist buildings have become important heritage structures in their own right. Some local examples of Modernist buildings
include the Electra condominiums on
Harold Semmens and Douglas Simpson, the new building presented a friendly face to the neighbourhood. In contrast to the
imposing, old world bulk of the Carnegie branch at
The design referenced many famous Modernist architects: the glass expanse at the front alluded to Mies van der Rohe, the use of
stone a reference to Marcel Breuer, the low ceiling entrance an influence of Frank Lloyd Wright. (According to the son of Douglas
Simpson, the architect studied under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in
proportioning”, the building presented a welcoming and accessible face to the local community. According to one source,
after its grand opening, Collingwood branch recorded the highest circulation of materials for kids of any branch library in the
attracted the curious, and it soon turned into the most visited Modernist building in
successive library projects such as M.E. Uttley’s Okanagan Regional Library (1955) and Kenneth Sandbrook’s New Westminster
Library (1958). Because of their work on the Collingwood branch library, the partnership of Semmens and Simpson went on to
receive the responsibility of designing the new central branch of Vancouver Public Library in 1954. Debuting in 1957, the new
Modernist library building at Robson and
for excellence in Canadian architecture.
the library itself almost closed during the 1990s, but received a reprieve. The history of preserving heritage buildings and
Modernist architecture in
design has lost much of its Modernist features due to a renovation last decade. In a conversation with the Douglas Simpson’s
of the building should be retained. As
to his legacy.” Early photos of the building contrasted with the current condition of the building suggest that successive renovations
have not respectful of its architectural status.
It exists as an east side example of local Modernist architecture designed by two acclaimed architects. If it meets the criteria,
the building should immediately be added to the Vancouver Heritage Registry as a rare example of Modernist architecture in
building design, layout and interior furnishings could be spruced up in the Modernist spirit, sensitive of course to the library staff
and patron needs and to budgetary constraints. Certainly the original colour should be restored and the signage could echo that
of 1950s typography. At the very least, proper maintenance should be enforced. For example, during
strike of 2007, a vehicle crashed into the building, causing some minor damage to the brick work that has not been repaired.
To this day, the brickwork damage remains and it can still be seen just right of the main entrance.
The library and city
should set an
example for celebrating the city’s heritage architecture and design,
in a humble
neighbourhood like Renfrew-Collingwood. Refurbishing this building and many other heritage landmarks in our area is an important
step in the preservation of our shared history and the first step of cultivating an identity to Renfrew-Collingwood. However, it will
only occur if the whole community shares this aspiration and does its best to discuss this with others who can help in this goal.
Share your ideas concerning Collingwood branch library by emailing Ms. Joan Andersen, Library Board Chair at firstname.lastname@example.org
Articulate Collingwood branch library’s inclusion in
and city council at