St. Thomas-Elgin Public Library

153 Curtis Street, St. Thomas, ON.

“There definitely is beauty in ‘brutalism’….”

-Heather Robinson St. Thomas Library

St. Thomas Library, as it is known today, is an integrated work of architecture, engineering, landscape and visual art.  Associated with Brutalism in the Modern Movement, the library is a particularly sensitive and human-scaled example.  Designed by the Massey medal award-winning firm of Brook Carruthers Shaw, it carefully balances qualities of solidity and permanence with openness and light.

Located in the city centre, at the corner of Mondamin and Curtis Streets, the building was sited opposite the Carnegie Library (Neil Darrach, 1904), which the library system had outgrown.  The project was an unusual collaboration between the governments of the City of St. Thomas and Elgin County, as the library was designed to accommodate both the city and county library systems. Lieutenant-Governor Pauline McGibbon opened the library in 1974.  

The library reinforces an urban civic precinct comprised of City Hall (Neil Darrach, 1899), the former Carnegie Library, and the Administration of Justice and Police Building (G. Duncan Black, 1971).  The building’s low profile and its setback from the street defer to the two heritage buildings to the south as well as to the neighbouring houses.  Yet, the design achieves a strong civic presence.

The design is a composition of mainly rectilinear volumes, which are characterized by the extensive use of poured in place concrete and abundant glazing.  The library is arranged around a sunken forecourt on Curtis Street.  Interior spaces are well lit, from windows and skylights, and offer views of both the sunken gardens at the south and west, as well as the heritage buildings across the street.  A bronze sculpture, Mother and Child by artist Jiri Hanzalek, is situated outdoors near the main entrance.  The sculpture, gardens, benches, and streetlamps are civic amenities animating the streetscape.

The library has been in continuous use as an asset to the community since it opened in 1974.