ARCHITECTURE | West Coast Modern :: VPL Kitsilano Branch Library ::: Peter F. Smith, Architect

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In another post:

About architect Peter F. Smith’s Burnaby Public Library (renamed “Kingsway Branch” after its demotion to branch status in 1991), I wrote that the other library he designed — the Kitsilano Branch of Vancouver Public Library — is a “a down-home, comfy kind of space” compared with the formal Modernism of his design for Burnaby in 1962.

Kitsilano Branch (which opened in 1963) shows a distinct move away from Smith’s Miesian purity towards a more domestic architecture.

In some ways, Kitsilano Branch is even more “West Coast” than BPL because of its attempt to link inside and outside (the branch has doors, now permanently locked, that used to open out on to a northern terrace):

“Inside-outside,” bringing nature into the interior of a building, was a central tenet of West Coast Modernism and I do like how “domestic” this branch looks. It fits into its neighbourhood very nicely.

I find, however, that Smith’s detailing for the Kitsilano branch is a bit fussy. Compared with his minimalist work for Burnaby, in Vancouver Smith went all out, using a wide assortment of materials.

Here’s a comparison of the materials used at the two libraries:


< stucco used only in rear elevation

I find it instructive to look at the rear face of both libraries. In Burnaby, Smith’s architectural brick is replaced by stucco in the back. To me, this is entirely acceptable — it’s as if Smith was saying: “I’m leaving the south elevation in stucco so you can expand the library in that direction in the future.”

At Kitsilano, the backside is also stucco. As there is no room for expansion on the site, this decision reads as, “We’ll use the good materials (brick and granite) on the public fronts and save money on the lane side of the building.” To me, it just looks cheap.

One thing both libraries share is their extensive use of clerestory windows and skylights for optimal interior lighting:

KITS

KINGWAY

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Peter Smith seems to have had a good understanding of how libraries should work in the early 1960s. Both of his libraries in greater Vancouver are interesting, but once again, BPL Kingsway is the clear winner in the architectural heritage game.

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Here are some photos from VPL showing the history of pre-Smith Kitsilano Branch:

VPL 3470 Photo > Philip Timms

1932: Close up view of the doorway of the Kitsilano Branch of the Vancouver Public Library, at 2375 West Fourth Avenue

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VPL 3469 Photo > Philip Timms

1932: The exterior of the Kitsilano Branch of the Vancouver Public Library, at 2375 West Fourth Avenue

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VPL 10441 Photo > Leonard Frank

1928: Kitsilano Public Library staff

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VPL 10442 Photo > Frank Leonard

1928: Interior of Kitsilano Library

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VPL 3471 Photo > Philip Timms

1932: Interior of the Kitsilano Branch of the Vancouver Public Library, at 2375 West Fourth Avenue

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