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The Grande Bibliothèque is the central hub of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ). The building resulted from of a merger of three institutions: the central public library of Montreal, the national library of Quebec, and the archives of Québec. A rich cultural destination, the library has as its primary mandate to democratize access to culture and knowledge. With 8,000 visitors per day, the Grande Bibliothèque is among the busiest in North America and is the largest public library of the French-speaking world.

2014 Mies Crown Hall Architecture Prize Outstanding Project
2010Governor General’s Medal in Architecture
2007 — American Institute of Architects / American Library Association Honor Award
2006 — Lieutenant Governor’s Medal in Architecture

The design was selected through an international competition, which attracted 37 firms from 11 countries.

At 37,000 square metres in size, the Grande Bibliotheque features a variety of reading and work areas; several exhibition spaces; an auditorium, conference centre, children’s library, software library, and language laboratory; and advanced electronic architecture providing resources and services to people throughout Québec.

The design of the building begins at the scale of the city, through multiple pedestrian connections to its urban site in the heart Montréal’s Latin Quarter. The building gathers visitors from all directions, tying together street entrances, underground parking, and the nearby Berri-UQAM metro station.

To bring vitality to the site, spaces that do not require library control — exhibition space, auditorium, conference center, gift shop, entrance lobby, café, and booksellers — are located along pedestrian circulation at street level and below grade. Visual continuity and unexpected adjacencies allow the spaces of the city and the spaces of the library to activate and support each other, energizing and enriching the public realm.

Pedestrian routes extend from the ground floor up through the library collections. A central system of elevators and stairs allows customers to navigate the building efficiently. A promenade complements the elevator and stair system, interconnecting library spaces over multiple floors with a more informal means of circulation. This promenade begins at the library entrance, rising upward through a series of stepped reading rooms to the top floor of the library. Views of Montreal unfold as this route ascends, connecting the library experience to the broader context of Montreal.

The rich, natural materials of the Grande Bibliotheque build on the culture and heritage of Quebec. Inspired by Les Chambres de bois, a novel by Quebec author Anne Hebert, the two major library collections are housed within multi-story wooden volumes. The Collection universelle is centrally located, with reading spaces at its perimeter, next to views and daylight. Conversely, the Collection nationale is perimeter-located, creating a central toplit reading room. Bright and open, the screen-like wood volumes are constructed of yellow birch, one of Quebec’s national emblems.

A glass and copper building envelope, manufactured in Quebec, represents the library as a whole. Opaque in some places, diaphanous in others, the facade offers enticing glimpses of the library to the city.

In 2014, the Grande Bibliothèque celebrated their 25 millionth visitor. It is the most frequented cultural facility in Montreal

Location: Montreal, Québec
Dates: 2000 – 2005
Client: Bibliothèque nationale du Québec
Area: 37,000 sq m

Architect: Patkau Architects / Croft Pelletier / Menkes Shooner Dagenais Architectes Associéis

Project Team: Laura Arpiainen, Vaughn Berg, Greg Boothroyd, Stephan Chevalier, Judy Cheung, Michael Cunningham, Dominique Dumais, Michael Elkan, Samantha Hayes, Timothy Newton, Patrick O’Sullivan, John Patkau, Patricia Patkau, Kathleen Robertson, David Shone, Craig Simms, Kristine Solberg, Nick Sully, Peter Suter

Structural: Regroupement Nicolet Chartrand Knoll Limitée / Les Consultants Géniplus Inc.
Mechanical / Electrical: Le Consortium Bouthillette, Pariseau & Associes Inc./Groupe HBA Experts-Conseils Inc.
Lighting: NBBJ
Acoustics: Legault Davidson
Theatre: Scenoplus
Elevators: KJA Inc.
Code: Technorm Inc.
Landscape architect: Scheme Consultants

Contractor: Hervé Pomerleau

Photos: James Dow / Patkau Architects