The new Halifax Central Library opened up in December to much fanfare. People love it. It is an iconic building for the city of Halifax. I was lucky enough to get to lead the team which ran the public engagements that influenced the design of the building.
The engagements enabled the library and architects to be highly responsive to public input through the design process. This has contributed to the enormous sense of ownership that Haligonians feel. Here’s a video of a newscast around the opening so you can get a sense of the vibe. There were some great conditions in place to support it happening. Here’s a few that I can name right off the bat:
The public was thirsty for different. The majority of the engagement delivered in the city had been so limited in its participation and impact that anything we did was going to feel like a leap. Andy Fillmore, one of the city planners at the time, described it as moving public consultation from “present and defend to engage and integrate”. People weren’t just up for a change in the engagement process though; they were also thirsty for something different from the architects. The first event made it clear people wanted something that would break the mould and be iconic for the city of Halifax. That is, without a doubt, what has been achieved.
This project was the first major public engagement I had run. I had done large-scale citizen engagement as part of systems change projects and community work but never to support the design of a building in such a public project. The libraries engagement launched me into a new field of work and taught me an enormous amount. Yet the unique set of circumstances that surrounded the work did not prepare me for some of the conflict that accompanied later public engagement projects.
I am incredibly proud of my role in the design and development of this building. I hope it continues to set the bar for public engagement and architectural design for the city of Halifax.
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