Former Vancouver Public Library
750 Burrard Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6Z, Canada
Former Vancouver Public Library
Vancouver Public Library
Links and documents
1955/01/01 to 1957/01/01
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Former Vancouver Public Library consists of a four-storey concrete structure, predominantly glazed on the streetfronts facing Burrard and Robson Streets, and a fifth storey set back with a cantilevered roof. It is located on a corner site in downtown Vancouver.
Built in 1955-57, the Former Vancouver Public Library building is important for its historic, social, cultural, aesthetic and associative significance, in particular for its Modernist approach to community library planning.
Having received the Massey Silver Medal for Architecture in 1958, the Former Vancouver Public Library is historically significant as one of the earliest landmark buildings employing Modernist design principles. Its design embraced the ideal of the building as an instrument of progressive social change, enabling the dissemination of knowledge to a broader public. To this end, traditional library architecture and its language of formality, hierarchy and inaccessibility were rejected in favour of the Modernist idiom. The building expresses welcoming accessibility, with its glazing and deep corner overhangs. Its location is noteworthy as representative of the westward direction of downtown development in the post-World War II decades. Its scale and style allow it to function as a bridging element between the low-scale commercial strip along Robson Street and the much larger offices towers and hotels immediately to the north. It was and remains a civic landmark.
The building is aesthetically valuable for the Modernist design elements that contribute to its sophisticated composition. These elements include the contrast of solids and voids; large glazed surfaces that expose interior spaces and create a sense of openness; the play of glass and concrete and black granite across its facade; independent (reinforced concrete) structural frame and non-load-bearing exterior curtain walls (glass, aluminium and granite) that have no sense of bulk or mass; a compositional balance achieved without resorting to axial symmetry; and a complete abandonment of historical ornament.
The Former Vancouver Public Library is also important for its association with the architectural firm of Semmens and Simpson, who played a prominent role in Vancouver's post-war Modernist architectural scene and reached the high point of their career with this building. As the primary designer, Douglas Simpson epitomized the new thinking of Vancouver architects. He worked in a collaborative manner with his client to realize a design that was not only expressive of the ideals of the institution but also was functionally and technically sound.
Of cultural significance is the sole remaining piece of art originally associated with the building. A bronze sculpture by artists Lionel and Patricia Thomas is located on the Burrard Street facade. This piece is important, not only as the last vestige of original art work in the building, but also because it is associated with a unique community of artists and architects that formed a cohesive Modernist group striving to improve the life of Vancouver's citizens through art and design during the period 1940-1970.
Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program
The character-defining elements of the Former Vancouver Public Library include:
Siting, Context, and Landscape
- Location near the business district
- Location between low commercial buildings along Robson Street and office and hotel towers to the north
- Openness of the corner at street level, solid-walled at each end
- Human scale of the street frontage
- Reinforced-concrete structure, including cantilevered floor and roof plates at corner
- Extensive glass curtain walls at the corner
- Solid concrete walls at the far ends of the principal facades
- Deeply cantilevered building edge at the corner
- Polished near-black granite facing on plinth along Burrard facade at ground floor level
- Bronze Lionel Thomas sculpture on the west facade of the building
City of Vancouver
Vancouver Charter, s.593
Theme - Category and Type
- Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
- Learning and the Arts
Function - Category and Type
- Commerce / Commercial Services
- Shop or Wholesale Establishment
Architect / Designer
Semmens and Simpson
Location of Supporting Documentation
City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program
Cross-Reference to Collection