WATERDOWN – A new library and civic centre now looks out over the Niagara escarpment in a small community outside Hamilton, Ontario. The designers at Toronto firm RDH intended for the building to respond to the region’s lithic, rolling topography. As a geological landform with a steep, 3-metre slope, the site was no exception to this characteristic.
The program, however, adapts to the incline rather than cutting into it. A fluid, single-story plan splits among six levels that connect seamlessly by 1:20 sloping walkways, allowing visitors to flow freely from the recreation centre at street level to the library directly above. The highest of the library’s four terraces serves as a reading atrium with a panoramic window offering natural light and sublime views. These elements constitute the architects’ effort to form, in their words, ‘an artificial landscape to heighten the experience of the user, aspiring to create an inextricable connection to its immediate site, and to the greater landscape’.
This ‘architecture as topography’ extends into the locally-sourced materials as well, with the site’s dolomitic limestone cladding the exterior and lending it the image of a naturally-occurring fragment rising from the hillside. Glazed curtain walls incorporate custom ceramic frit patterns and fins of recycled douglas fir as a brise-soleil system.