Vancouver Public Library – Burrard Street


In 1957 Vancouver got a beautiful new library. It took two years to build, and it was designed by the city’s foremost contemporary architectural practice of the day, Semmens and Simpson. In a relatively short period the Canadian-born partners designed a series of simple but effective residential and commercial buildings across the city starting in 1949. Many, but sadly not all of their buildings are still standing, and some have been altered, few as much as the Public Library. This was almost their last work – the practice effectively split in 1956, and while Harold Semmens stayed in the city until 1962, Douglas Simpson moved initially to Hawaii in 1957, and later to Australia and Fiji.

Initially commissioned in 1954, the new library was a simple modernist structure that attempted to allow the public to see inside the building as much as possible. On the Robson facade there were vertical louvres designed to rotate automatically, controlled by photoelectric cells. The heating was from spare steam provided by the Hotel Vancouver. The building cost just under the $2 million budget, and the building structure was designed for a possible two additional floors. Our 1960 VPL image shows the building a few years after it was completed.

VPL nightBy the early 1990s the city had embarked on an architectural competition to replace the Burrard Street building with an even larger building. The new Library Square complex opened in 1995, combining the Library’s Central Branch, a Federal Office Tower, and retail space in a curved glazed atrium. Once decommissioned the former library was altered and re-used as TV studios and a three-storey retail space. Occupied by both Virgin Megastore and HMV, with the demise of CD and dvd sales the store’s most recent reinvention is as a branch of Victoria’s Secret, with pink fabric window display panels.



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