New Quebec library by ACDF Architecture is an exercise in thoughtful adaptive reuse
Adrien Williams

New Quebec library by ACDF Architecture is an exercise in thoughtful adaptive reuse

3 Jun 2024  •  News  •  By Gerard McGuickin

Canadian architectural firm ACDF Architecture has completed the new Bibliothèque T-A-St-Germain in Saint-Hyacinthe, a city in south-western Quebec. Striking a balance between efficiency and aesthetics, the library reimagines an existing 1980s office building with an additional contemporary extension. An exercise in adaptive reuse, the project effectively reduces embodied carbon and celebrates what is possible with a thoughtful architectural intervention.

photo_credit Adrien Williams
Adrien Williams
photo_credit Adrien Williams
Adrien Williams

ACDF Architecture has reframed the notion of a traditional library, designing a 52,200-square-feet (4,850-square-meter) cultural hub with a varied program spread across three floors. The library’s amenities include a series of multipurpose rooms, an exhibition area, co-working space, multimedia creation studios (Fab Lab), a café, terrace, and zones for children, teenagers, and adults.

photo_credit Adrien Williams
Adrien Williams
photo_credit Adrien Williams
Adrien Williams

The T-A-St-Germain library is part of the City of Saint-Hyacinthe’s vision to enliven its historic downtown area by stemming the movement of retailers and residents to new urban hubs located along major highways. The City purchased a strategic site in the downtown core — bordering the Yamaska River and Barsalou Bridge, it is considered a key access point to the area. The library is “the first stone in a new waterfront corridor,” says ACDF. At the heart of the arts and culture section of a recently developed 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) pedestrian and bicycle river route, the library is integral to an urban development project that seeks to enhance the Yamaska River.

photo_credit ACDF Architecture
ACDF Architecture
photo_credit Adrien Williams
Adrien Williams

In 2017, the City of Saint-Hyacinthe acquired a vacant 1987 postmodern office building in the heart of Saint-Hyacinthe's historic district (for the T-A-St-Germain library) and commissioned ACDF to determine whether it should be demolished or could be adapted and reused. With its experience in transforming existing buildings and convinced that “architects must make every effort to keep buildings healthy,” ACDF demonstrated the office building’s continued viability: its structure was sound, the envelope remained effective, and planted areas were mature. The decision was made to create a building that would act as a cultural beacon and to preserve as much of the existing structure as possible, thereby minimizing the project’s carbon emissions. “That decision was reached despite significant — but not insurmountable — constraints, including low floor clearance, a universal accessibility issue related to site topography and floor positioning, uninspiring aesthetics, and a large footprint on the site that left only minimal space for outdoor functions and parking areas,” explains the studio.

 

 

ACDF’s approach to the project adopted a sustainable vision through the rehabilitation of a modest building — a combination of pragmatism and creativity was employed. The studio chose to eschew the grandiosity and flamboyance that can often accompany such cultural architectural endeavors. ACDF committed to designing “an architecture imbued with a certain formal and tectonic sobriety, focusing on simple volumetric articulations.”

photo_credit ACDF Architecture
ACDF Architecture
photo_credit Adrien Williams
Adrien Williams

The T-A-St-Germain library combines the site’s existing building with a complementary new extension. Clad in a whitish glass skin, the extension acts as a beacon without imposing itself on the space — the design marks a subtle distinction with the original building. “Its volumetric sobriety and glass envelope, with modules similar to those of the existing building, create a coherent whole,” says ACDF.

photo_credit Adrien Williams
Adrien Williams

The studio augmented the existing building’s architectural qualities, including “its gauge, its highly efficient Cartesian geometry, and its symmetry.” The volumetric extension counterbalances the existing building’s low clearance heights and strip fenestration by offering light-filled spaces, a terrace, and expansive views towards the Yamaska River. A large hallway links a new pedestrian entrance and the riverside car entrance. The multipurpose space includes a reception, cafe, and pre-function area — conceived as a crossroads, it encourages connections and interactions. A coffered wooden ceiling provides a warm, friendly, and inviting ambience. The extension’s ground floor (level 1) houses three multifunctional rooms, each one accessed from the hallway; there is an outdoor terrace on the first floor (level 2), and the second floor (level 3) is dedicated to adult collections.

photo_credit ACDF Architecture
ACDF Architecture
photo_credit Adrien Williams
Adrien Williams
photo_credit Adrien Williams
Adrien Williams
photo_credit Adrien Williams
Adrien Williams

“The combination of the existing building and the extension results in a variety of spaces and, above all, a variety of atmospheres to suit all tastes,” says ACDF. In contrast to the bright extension, low ceiling heights and subdued lighting in the existing building effectively establish reading and working areas, their human scale more conducive to concentration. The architecture capitalizes on the duality of old and new, accentuating differing perspectives for users. A black monochromatic threshold acts as a visual demarcation and groups together the main vertical circulations.

A versatile and dynamic space, “the new library encourages spontaneous encounters, informal exchanges, discoveries, and self-fulfillment in a warm and tranquil environment,” says ACDF.

photo_credit Adrien Williams
Adrien Williams
photo_credit Adrien Williams
Adrien Williams

Reflecting on the T-A-St-Germain library project, Maxime-Alexis Frappier, ACDF President, says: “We hope that the responsible and frugal approach employed in this expansion and transformation project can serve to raise awareness of the merits of conserving our built heritage and exercising restraint in the means we employ to design exceptional places.”

photo_credit Adrien Williams
Adrien Williams