Whistler Public Library

British Columbia, Canada
Hughes Condon Marler Architects

Hughes Condon Marler Architects showcase locally sourced hemlock in Whistler's new public library.

By Jane F. Kolleeny

As the key location for skiing events at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler, British Columbia, will no doubt be irrevocably imprinted on people’s minds this winter. Two hours north of Vancouver, the village occupies a narrow valley along the Sea to Sky Corridor of the Coast Mountains. With over 200 ski runs, the area has become a top resort for winter sports and a natural for the Olympic races.

While the 10,000 residents of Whistler prepare for the onslaught of spectators, athletes, and the media arriving in February, they can seek respite in their new 14,500-square-foot public library, designed according to green principles by Vancouver-based Hughes Condon Marler Architects. The library, which opened in January 2008, has been lauded for its design, functionality, and sustainability by locals and the international design community alike.

Whistler Public Library
Photo © Nic Lehoux
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Strictly enforced methods for harvesting wood ensure that British Columbia, whose land mass is two-thirds woodland, serves as a leading global provider of wood from sustainably managed forests. In addition, government requirements encourage design teams to use indigenous wood as a primary building material in local construction. When the architects expressed an interest in hemlock, the Coast Forest Lumber Association (CFLA) offered them incentives to incorporate it in the library’s design. The CFLA provided 20-by-26-foot lengths of the wood, and the architects and structural engineers investigated how best to utilize these structural members in a manner that resolved the wood’s susceptibility to warping and bending. The design team also needed to satisfy a challenging program, which included significant green features, a durability to withstand heavy winter snow load, and the need for a daylit interior open to mountain views.


The architects sought a design that reflects both the drama of the garland of peaks circling Whistler as well as the village scale of the town, modeled after a Swiss village. “With its pitched roofs and fake trim, romantic to a fault, the typical design of buildings in the village is popular with tourists and has its place, but is not becoming for a civic building,” commented Daryl Condon, the firm’s principal in charge. “So we took a more intellectual approach,” he continued. The front of the building, with a raised wall of high-performance glazing and an exposed ceiling, contains the main areas of the library. The rear lies in a lower elevation with standard ceiling heights and more intimate gathering areas. The height juxtaposition responds to the differences in scale between the surrounding mountains and the village. Existing parking is tucked under the front of the building, creating a plaza in front of the library where strolling pedestrians can congregate.

The building features hearty structural roof panels fabricated from interlaced hemlock. “Managing the snowfall is a major consideration. You either hold the snow on top of the building, or provide a dump zone for it to drop into that does not interfere with pedestrians,” added Condon. “So we did both, but maximized the amount held on the roof.” The structure gains strength from its staggered arrangement, steel I-beams, and king-post trusses. In between each 4-foot-wide panel, a narrow column accommodates conduit to allow a clear expanse of panels overhead. Off-site prefabrication of the components using modeling software allowed the team to keep to a tight schedule, and to fulfill sustainable goals, including “quality control, economies of scale, low-embodied energy, and a reduction in the amount of glues used in production,” explained Condon.

The architects’ daylighting scheme minimizes the need for electric light while maximizing northern light suitable for reading. The gently sloping building provides dramatic views to the mountains, establishing a strong visual connection between outside and inside. In addition to the hemlock, building materials include locally quarried basalt, and cedar for cladding. Ground-source heat exchange, underfloor heating and cooling, and high-efficiency boilers provide energy savings. Windows can be operated manually or controlled by a digital system. A green roof covers 80 percent of the library, reducing storm-water runoff and increasing insulation. The high-performance library is the first municipal facility in Whistler to apply for LEED Gold certification and is projected to use 45 to 50 percent less energy than a comparable facility with conventional systems.


The Disney-like character of the adjacent village posed challenges for the architects. Using vernacular mountain design elements, including heavy-timber construction, abundant local stone, and broad overhangs, they succeeded in responding to the context while raising the bar for good design. Martin Pardoe, project manager of the Whistler Public Library, commented, “The local community’s prescriptive design approach challenged the library team to reinterpret existing design guidelines. The [team’s] innovative and contemporary interpretation has produced an original look that is the new precedent against which other projects are evaluated.” Since opening, visitation has increased by 185 percent and the library has become one of the community’s favorite gathering places, a true measure of success.

Location: 4329 Main Street, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

Completion Date: January 2008

Gross square footage: 1,400 m2

Total construction cost: $6.7 Million

Owner: The Resort Municipality of Whistler

Hughes Condon Marler Architects
300 - 1508 West Second Avenue
Vancouver, BC, V6J 1H2
telephone: 604.732.6620 
fax: 604.732.6695

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