The furniture groupings bring a human scale to the vast interior spaces, creating a sense of purposeful unity. The juxtaposition of light sources and concrete panels in the library rooms establish the importance of exposed utility in Brutalist interiors.
Construction of McLaughlin Library was completed in 1968 at a cost of $8,175,000. Robert Samuel McLaughlin (1871-1972), who was a pioneer Canadian car manufacturer and philanthropist, donated $1million towards the project.
Josep Lluis Sert (1902-1983), born in Barcelona, was an important international modern architect with close associations with the major influences of the modern movement such as Le Corbusier, Picasso, Miro, Calder and the members of the Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM). He was the Dean of the Graduate School of Design at Harvard, replacing Walter Gropius in 1953. He practiced architecture, including designs for Harvard and Boston Universities as well as the University of Guelph while at Harvard in the 1960’s.
A highly successful building in campus life, McLaughlin Library is one of the central hubs of the university and rates highly as a place of value for the campus community and alumni. On a busy day more than 12,000 people use the library, and more than 1 million visit annually. The building negotiates a complete one-storey grade change along Winegard Walk. The main entrance is not on the Plaza but on the Walk, directly across from the southern entrance to the MacKinnon Building creating a pinch point between Johnston Green and Branion Plaza. The resulting tension and release between the spaces was originally an urban design attribute.
As the most muscular building on campus, McLaughlin Library displays an explicitly strong interplay between cast-in-place and precast concrete elements. The contrast of vertical circulation towers set against the horizontality of the floors creates an almost fortress-like effect. The vertical towers are highly textured cast-in-place concrete, crafted in béton brut and using vertical, diagonal and horizontal boarding patterns.
The book New Library Design, published two years after the completion of McLaughlin Library, was a collaboration of Stephen Langmead (the project architect for the Library design team) and Margaret Beckman (Chief Librarian for the University of Guelph Library). Featuring the new Library as a case study, the book outlined the rules for state-of-the-art design and furnishing of modern libraries.