Public-sector design has to strike the right ‘Tone’, says president of Architects Association of Ontario
May 19, 2016
By Rick Drennan
The buildings are bold, imaginative, spirited, airy, colourful, award winning, and definitely different.
They rose above the clichéd descriptors often used when critics talked about them.
Impressive, spectacular, unique, and one-of-a-kind are just a few of the amped-up words that could be used when describing three remodelled Mississauga Public Libraries: Port Credit, Lorne Park, and Lakeview.
Yes, you read it right. We’re talking libraries here, the most pedestrian of public buildings.
But they don’t have to be, says the president of the Architects Association of Ontario.
Maybe that’s why these three libraries were shortlisted for a prestigious OAA award in a province-wide competition that unveiled its winners on May 13 in Toronto.
While the Mississauga libraries didn’t win, they did cause a buzz, and for OAA president Toon (pronounced Tone) Dreessen, their redesigns announced a paradigm shift in thinking when it comes to the creation or remodelling of public-sector buildings.
They don’t have to be bland.
They should be unique, beautiful, and inviting.
If they are, says Dreessen, they will pay for themselves for years to come because their very designs promise even more usage.
For years, architects were chained to the urn of history. Libraries must be designed to offer users plenty of space where concentration is king.
Did that mean designing dark and bland and utilitarian buildings?
Dreessen says visiting a library shouldn’t leave the same claustrophobic effect on users as sliding into an MRI machine.
Air out the design. Give it space and light. Make it more accommodating for reading and browsing and networking.
That’s what Rounthwaite Dick and Hadley Architects Inc. the Toronto-based firm hired to do the job did in Mississauga accomplished – with flair.
And that delighted Dreessen, also president of Dreessen Cardinal Architects Inc., in Ottawa.
Dreessen says there’s incredible value to be had when cities put so much energy into the design of public buildings. He sees big shifts in embracing the green movement (LEED design). That will shave money off the heating and lighting of these buildings. He’s also heartened by a huge shift in the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.
The days when a city has to choose the “cheapest” alternatives are hopefully over, he says. It will be replaced by going with the best possible design available. That means buildings will be more attractive to end users, they tend to age more gracefully, and as a spin-off, the value of the surrounding neighbourhood will be heightened.
"There’s a vast interest in net value now, “ says Dreessen.
The problem with public buildings is that when they are proposed, everything is political. Dreessen says it’s way past time we “depoliticized” the process of RFP, and he urges a new emphasis on the design of pubic facilities.
It’s all about creating staying power, and more usage.
A beautiful, well-designed public building raises the awareness (and value) of a city, and the neighbourhood in which it sits, he explains.
“We have to focus on the measurable value,” adds Dreessen.
The days of a library being populated by grey old ladies telling you to ‘hush,’ is blessedly over. Libraries should be light-filled, and free from the constraints of designs past.
No more dark corners, or big stacks that chop away at a building’s openness.
Architects like to deal in straight and clean lines, but they also have a whimsical side and look for the telling details that will set a building apart and keep it on the public’s radar for years to come.
The colourless and repressive design from the past doesn’t mean older buildings have little value. A retro movement is afoot too, a blending of old and new into something dramatic. We see it in many cities in Europe. Prague has weaved yesterday, today and tomorrow into a lovely cityscape that is inviting for residents and tourists.
This lovely duality is very much alive in other forward thinking cities, and Mississauga is quickly taking its place amongst them.
Bringing a little mirth to public buildings works not only to draw in users, but retains them, and also attracts new converts in the future.
Visiting public libraries is becoming cool, especially for the young and old in Mississauga.
The Port Credit design is modern and clean and open and bright, and coupled with the new technology that is being offered at libraries, it’s created an eclectic mix.
Dresseen, 45, is in mid-career, and has a host of accomplishments in his back pocket, but he’s leading the charge to get builders and architects and municipalities to work in concert to create iconic buildings that add to the cultural fabric, and stand the test of time.
He points out that some public facilities built during the great Centennial Year (1967) celebrations offered up a frenzy of new designs. Some aged badly. Others are still a big part of a community’s mosaic.
The next great wave of public-sector development is pushing designs into a new and exciting phase.
Dreessen hopes to never again hear our public buildings being described as bland, or boring.
He much prefers descriptors like ‘impressive, spectacular, unique,’ and ‘one-of-a-kind.’
Source: The Mississauga News