Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
Canada’s first bookless library dedicated to Makerspaces, the Idea Exchange Old Post Office offers Cambridge residents free access to an array of spaces for learning and creativity, and a new, central hub for meeting and socializing.
Renovated by RDH Architects, The Idea Exchange Old Post Office Library was recently awarded with a 2020 International Architecture Award from The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and The Chicago Athenaeum.
Anchored on the bank of the Grand River, the project reignites a landmark designed by Canadian architect Thomas Fuller, a listed 1885 masonry post office that had fallen into serious disrepair, and adds a 9,000 sqft transparent pavilion that wraps around the original building and stretches out over the water, revealing the conviviality within to passersby, enticing them in.
The multidimensional architecture communicates from all sides, exuding intelligence and practicality as it deftly merges old and new. RDHA achieved sophisticated forms using customized off-the-shelf materials, maximizing utility, appearance, and economy.
Standard elements, such as drywall and strip lights, are treated with a degree of care that adds elegance.
The Idea Exchange Old Post Office is an emblem of civic pride, of advances in communication technologies (in its transition from post office to digital hub), and of the corresponding transformation of the Cambridge library system, which in 2015 rebranded itself as the Idea Exchange.
A glass box entrance introduces an exhilarating progression up a zigzagging ramp adjacent to glass walled views of the historic building, providing users with a close-up of the immaculately restored masonry while carrying them into the contemporary addition that cantilevers over the river wall.
Scattered with table and lounge seating, this area offers breathtaking floor-to-ceiling views of the surroundings.
Rhythmic window openings in the old building are now entrances into a fully-equipped restaurant and comfortable multi-purpose room, accessed by bridges that echo the bridges over the river.
The openings in the floor allow natural light from skylights overhead to reach the subterranean level and also connect the activities below to the heart of the building.
There is care and efficiency in the details; for example, stone patterns on the facade of the heritage building inspired a custom ceramic frit pattern of the new glass and a perforation pattern in millwork that provides airflow to servers and heaters.
Similarly, perforated drywall dampens acoustics while softening the visual uniformity of the ceilings.
On the lower level, users can take advantage of a suite of studio spaces.
There are a black box theatre, film and audio recording suites, laptop dispensing and gaming areas, and musical instruments available for recording and performance.
The second level is a children’s discovery center, a single large bright room equipped with smart tables, robot building kits, and built-in feature walls with Lego, Lite Brite, and magnets.
Faced with such demands and faced with relatively short deadlines, the architects chose to build using the dry construction system.
The concrete base is composed of prefabricated elements, which are laid out following the wooden poles’ frame.
Wall elements composed of CLT panels framing and thermal insulation were assembled in the carpenter’s workshop and then transported by truck to the end of the harbor, and finally moved by barge to the worksite.
The size of each hoisted element was dictated by its weight.
The façades are protected by cladding laid out either vertically or horizontally, depending on its exposure to the weather.
Project: Idea Exchange Old Post Office Library
Architects: RDH Architects (RDHA)
Original Architect: Thomas Fuller (1885)
Clients: City of Cambridge and the Idea Exchange
General Contractor: Collaborative Structures Ltd.
Heritage Consultants: Stevens Burgess Architects
Landscape Architects: NAK Design Group
Photographers: Tom Arban and RDHA