Toronto Reference Library

One of our favorite Toronto locations is the Reference Library located in the Yorkville neighborhood. The building was designed by Raymond Moriyama and was completed in 1977.  At that time and still today, it was/is Canada’s largest public reference library. The design of the building definitely feels like stepping back in time. The exterior is made up of red brick…

1977 photo exterior Toronto Reference Library

…which is carried throughout the interior with the orange carpet and handrails.

photo courtesy of Moriyama & Teshima Architects

The colors, along with the wide-open design and its large atrium feel of another time. Two areas that are the most fun to photograph from an abstract perspective are the staircase you see on the right in the photo above and the ceiling.

Here’s a bit of a closer shot from the year it opened for reference and to better explain where the coming abstract shots were made.

1977 photograph second floor stairs – Toronto Reference Library

If you get under the staircase and look up you can either go for a more angular and geometric perspective as the staircase overlaps in its zig-zagging pattern or focus on the curves as the staircase wraps around.

You can also use the openings surrounding the staircase to frame the pillars. Another geometric perspective.

However, emphasizing the curves of the staircase is a fun challenge. It definitely requires moving around under the staircase and a telephoto lens to strongly isolate portions of the space.

I also emphasized the peachy tones the incandescent lights cast on the white of the underside of the stairs in post-production by simply moving the white balance slider to the right for more warmth.

As you move to the top of the atrium, take a look down at the stairs for more interesting patterns, both a bit wider and very detailed.

You see the areas that are very black above in the wider shot are the orange handrails and walls of the stairway. Zoomed in tight against the white walls of the building you have a nice contrast in tones.

While you’re up here, check out the ceiling. Great texture, patterns and curves. Again, both wider and by isolating just a portion of the area.

Of architectural note, Moriyama was ahead of his time in terms of energy conservation with this ceiling design. He put in skylights to decrease the need for energy use and the open design allows for the air to circulate freely. Also, the building doesn’t have a conventional boiler or furnace. An internal heat source pump system recovers heat generated by the light, people and solar radiation through the windows and uses it to heat and cool the building.

Back to how to photograph this space…don’t forget to incorporate both the staircase along with the ceiling. It makes for a nice contrast of curves and angles.

We hope this gives you some ideas on how to approach this great location. One we’ll be discussing at this Saturday’s webinar and a location we’ll surely visit when we can all get together for a workshop in person.



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