Descriptions of Rexdale, a neighborhood on the suburban fringes of Toronto, are invariably dire. It is defined by “thick” arterial roads, strips malls set far from the sidewalk, aging and colorless infrastructure, and all-around poor walkability. A recent article in The Toronto Star describes the neighborhood as defined by “unrelieved ugliness” and “unrelenting dreariness in every direction.” Rexdale is home to many new immigrants, ethnic minorities, and low-income Canadians, who, due in large part to Toronto’s housing bubble, are increasingly being relegated to the urban fringes, where social services and economic opportunity are even less accessible. It also happens to be home to the glistening, intriguing, and airy new Albion District Library.
The Toronto office of Perkins + Will, the global architecture firm known for its down-to-earth, responsive design approach, conceived of a design to replace a dilapidated and programmatically unfit library with one that is more aptly tailored to Rexdale’s socio-economic milieu. The library’s front facade is comprised of a series of narrow, vertical panels of different colors; they connect to the wide, butterfly roof, from an upward incline beginning at the center. While variegated, and a bit flashy, it is tasteful. Most importantly, it doesn’t read as elitist, insensitive, or overly self-conscious. The design is “deliberately standing out from the context, just by virtue of the joyfulness it conveys,” explains Andrew Frontini, Principal of Perkins + Will Toronto and architect of the project. The library’s surrounding landscaped courtyard provides refuge from “a relatively drab urban fabric.” And the adjacent, previously “overscaled” and underutilized parking lot, which required negotiations with the city’s planning authorities to reduce, was retrofitted as a public plaza, where markets, concerts and festivals can be scheduled. The result? A new “public realm—apart from the mall food court.”