Library and Archives Canada’s new archival facility in Gatineau, Quebec protects Canada’s delicate historical collections. Using state-of-the-art robotics, the Gatineau 2 project will be the world’s largest automated archive facility– a sizable challenge on its own. Gatineau 2 also compelled our team to look further into the future, taking into careful consideration the ways to preserve the sensitive archive material for 500 years. The new archive had to complement rather than overshadow the architecturally significant Preservation Centre, which will connect to the new archives.

Prior to construction, our team conducted in-depth research into robotic automatic storage and retrieval systems (ASRS). and reviewed case studies from across the world for various forms of archival storage facilities to familiarize themselves with best practices in their design and construction. Guided by these insights, we built the Gatineau 2 facility with two distinct weathertight building enclosures to act as a fail-safe, passive defense system against environmental risks. Strict temperature and humidity controls were designed to maximize the collection’s storage life. These set points were achieved using individually dedicated mechanical systems that had more than enough backup capacity to maintain the archival environment in case of equipment failure or temporary power outage.

To achieve the architect’s vision for the façade, which features textures of granite, limestone, sandstone, clay and glacial till, we collaborated with the digital media laboratory at Carleton University to develop digital models of the stone textures which were later fabricated into custom molds for the 416 precast concrete panels.

In an innovative approach, our team worked with the formwork contractor to develop a method of using back-to-back blindside foundation formwork to pour large sections of wall which form the 28 meter-tall archival vaults. This application helped the team form a more reliable environmental barrier.

When complete, the archival facility will boast a storage capacity of 21,500 cubic meters – almost nine Olympic swimming pools – and provide the client with the highest level of protection possible. Six ASRS robots will move archival collections between the storage area and the user area, handling them with minimal disruption to the vault’s environment. While augmenting the architectural character of the existing facility, Gatineau 2 will also be the first archival center in the Americas with net-zero carbon emissions.

With ingenuity and purpose, our team constructed an archive that honors the past while looking generations beyond the present. The Canadian people are the true beneficiaries after all – this project goes above and beyond to keep their history safe.

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