In his famous 1995 manifesto (City of Bits), William J. Mitchell announced the end of paper and brick libraries in favour of digital ones available online. The new addition to the Félix-Leclerc library in Quebec, modest in size yet dynamic but very much in demand, demonstrates yet again the elemental fault with this cyber-evangelist prediction.
Yet again, as one of the major characteristics of the latest in contemporary architecture is certainly the architect's desire to re-formulate programs and spaces we believed we had already explored and definitively formulated. Yet a library, cannot stand to be reduced to a container of books, nor a reading salon and even less to a check-out desk. A public library is first and foremost a public place, as demonstrated by the rampant success of the Grande Bibliothèque du Québec.
And if architecture has indeed contributed to the present infatuation with the library, some of this success has got to be attributed to the librarians who have renewed their practices as well as the politicians who have not ceased to consider new means of intellectual satisfaction for the citizen. But no battle is ever entirely won. The long gone royal and religious literary censorship has nowadays been replaced by a new kind of governance and expurgation driven by the economic profitability assigned to the places of knowledge. Soon enough, someone will come along and ask for a comparison between the cost of a traditional library and the cost of a digital database of literary titles in order to justify W.J.Mitchell's prediction.
Before presenting the documented competition for this updating of the CCC, we should already mention that the final selection of teams for the Montarville-Boucher-de la Bruère Library New Addition competition is known since November 28th. These are: Architectes Faucher Aubertin Brodeur Gauthier, Brière, Gilbert + Associés, architectes and Manon Asselin architecte (Atelier TAG).
For this December updating of the CCC, we present the competition for the Félix-Leclerc library addition which was organized in 2006 under the supervision of Jacques White, although its need was already felt in 1998, just ten years after its original construction. The competition program pertained to an addition, but it also addressed the question of sustainable architectural practices. Anne Carrier's project which demonstrated a kind of elegant yet conventional modernity won over the jury. Its form elongated and re-equilibrated the existing edifice without obliterating it. The project by Atelier BiG City played the “green” card, insisting on a natural park environment which would reunite the existing library and its addition to its surroundings in order to form a new image for the whole. The entry by Boutros and Pratte was adamant about the insularity of the building and proposed treating it as a point of assembly and convergence. The forth project, presented by Croft Pelletier architects, aimed to evoke a kind of new morphology which enveloped the existing library in a distinctly experimental wood cladding materiality. With the competition behind us, we can observe that the differences between these four projects are quite notable even if each and every single one of them emphasizes the importance of the creation of places for gathering and reception of the public.
The publication of this competition will be our final undertaking before the end of 2007. It will coincide with an event which we judge highly important in the realm of contemporary Canadian architecture. In fact, the beautiful analytical exhibition organized for L.E.A.P. by Denis Bilodeau in collaboration with the Design Centre of UQAM will be presented at the Pavillon de l'Arsenal in Paris during the whole month of December ( http://www.pavillon-arsenal.com/home.php ). Selected cultural projects born out of competitions organized between 1991 and 2005 will be subject to the critical consideration of the Parisian public and the reflection on the coherence of this new cultural territoriality raised by the assembly of such a considerable number of projects will undoubtedly produce a substantial interest in a country where more than 1000 competitions are organised every year.
For 2008, we are preparing two surprises for those interested in the activity of L.E.A.P. In January, we should finally be able to make accessible the website of the documentary database which we have conceived for the Europan France organisation. And in March, with the collaboration of a number of Canadian schools, we will lauch an online forum which will aim to question and evaluate the place of environmental conception in architectural education: another one of those sustainable libraries!