Canada Water Library

“The opportunity is to provide a freestanding iconic civic building which exemplifies the importance of Library, Education and Community facilities to the people of the borough. It will be a striking, welcoming building”.

– London Borough of Southwark Brief, 28th April 2006

Positioned amongst a combination of existing buildings and those proposed, the new library is an important element of the Canada Water masterplan and one of the first to kick start the regeneration of the area. It sits at the north end of Canada Water Basin, an ecological lake in the site of an old dock which was originally used to import deal from Canada. The library is adjacent to Canada Water’s underground station and bus interchange which is a significant transport hub and has new connection links via the East London line extension.

The site runs to the back of the pavement of Surrey Quays Road and incorporates the existing south east tube exit.

The limited footprint of the building is constrained by the tube station box to the north under the plaza; clearance for a London Underground access hatch adjacent to the road; the strong pedestrian east/west desire line across the south of the plaza and the waterside walkway. The constraint to the east is to allow views of Canada Water Basin from the plaza.

From the start Southwark Council’s ambitions for the library were always for it to be far more than a traditional library. The building was to provide a centre for the local community, an amenity that would transform and link all of the regeneration elements around the area and provide a new vibrant focal point for the London Borough of Southwark.

In response to Southwark Councils brief, CZWG’s key challenge was to design a space which would accommodate the distinctly different requirements of the main users groups – adults, children and young persons in a building where the floor area required for the library space was far larger than the available footprint for the building on the given site.

The design of the new library needed to avoid multiple levels which would have cut off the interaction between the different user groups and also demanded a higher level of staff to service the library.

CZWG’s solution to this problem was to create an inverted pyramid for the overall form of the building. Besides allowing for the main library space to be on one floor – this design solution also positively responded to other design considerations such as minimising solar impact on the south elevation which needed big windows to enjoy the views over Canada Water basin. The diagonal wall also reduced the external envelope area (the diagonal wall is less than the sum of a vertical wall and a horizontal soffit) and also catering for the requirement for raked seating in the community performance space.

The design keeps the uses on the ground floor to the necessary and welcoming ones, so as to minimise the footprint of the building for the benefit of the surrounding public space, the plaza and views, particularly of Canada Water Basin. A public plaza space is proposed to the north of the library enclosed to its north and east by buildings with residential upper floors above commercial space at ground floor. There are opportunities to provide active frontage to the plaza; create a “fifth elevation” on the roof which will be visible from surrounding developments and incorporate a green roof. Shops and cafés spill out onto the plaza from both these buildings and the library encouraging short visits and interactions with the library other than to go to study. The library will sit at the edge of a new civic plaza which has been designed to allow for a farmers market, large TV screenings, festivals and a host of other events and activities. Together they will form part of a dynamic new town centre for Canada Water, which includes approximately 900 new homes, new retail and public space.

The building is clad in aluminum sheets that are anodised in a light bronze with sequined perforations, giving it sculptural appeal and striking visual effects. The library also has excellent green credentials, with a ground source heat pump, grey water harvesting and a green sedum roof.

From the double height atrium, a timber-lined central spiral staircase travels up to the expanding shape above which is the library floor. On the library floor level the Children’s and Young Adults areas have been designed to ensure a flexible layout space to cater for multi-use activities. There will be designated areas for study and contemporary methods of learning will be incorporated throughout the building including free Wi-Fi access. In addition to the study facilities there are meeting rooms for hire.

At ground floor level the café space will encourage people to enter the building from the plaza to discover all the facilities the library has on offer – they may participate or enjoy an event, attend a reading group, check their emails, browse the new books or have a quiet time with a coffee and a daily paper.

“I’m so proud to be unveiling this amazing building. It’s an incredible, breath-taking use of space, both inside and out, and has all that you could need under one roof. You could find yourself learning in the morning, listening to a poetry performance at lunchtime, studying in the afternoon, watching first class theatre at night, and then relaxing in the cafe after that.

We’re definitely leading the way in London with our libraries – first the iconic Peckham Library, then our refit of John Harvard Library resulting in visitor number records beaten, and next year two more brand new libraries for the borough.

And now with this new ‘super’ library, we aim to put Southwark on the map as a forward-thinking, pioneering borough with libraries right at our heart.”

– Cllr Veronica Ward, cabinet member for culture, leisure, sport and the Olympics at Southwark Council

“Canada Water library truly is a library for the future. Designed to reflect the changing needs of library users, it is a wonderful and visionary statement of how Southwark values its libraries. It’s a terrific landmark, not only for Southwark but for the entire capital.”

– Cllr Peter John, leader of Southwark Council

Southwark Council is excited by how the new library will contribute to the regeneration of the area and what it will offer to the local community. It will be a learning environment that caters for all from very young children through to adults of all ages. The facilities within the library include a performance/cultural space which can be used by local schools and organisations for various events. Courses for the local communities will also be provided within the teaching areas of the building including English as a second language.

There will be an opportunity to find out about the heritage of the site with exhibition space available to explain the historical uses of Canada Water Basin. Reference to the history of the site is also reflected in the use of timber flooring throughout the new building and a timber panelled central stairwell.

This building is the centre of a community, the jewel of the crown and demanded a material which makes it striking and unique but durable and resilient. It is clad in light bronze anodized aluminum sheets segueing from imperforate at ground level to an open lattice at the top. As the metal sheets climbs the face of the building the apertures open more and more, becoming mesh like, creating a water-like ripple texture across the façade, to echo the water of the basin. The aluminum sheets are backed by similar coloured panels.

The library is currently achieving a very high ‘Very Good’ BREEAM rating and striving for ‘Excellent.’

The design of the library incorporates many sustainable aspects including ground source heat pumps; – Solar heating panels; a green roof (sedum); Responsibility sourced timber; C02 low emissions.

Use of recycled materials has been encouraged throughout design and construction and the insulation used in the building has a very low GWP (global warming potential).


Join our mailing list

Get updates and more
×