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Carla Leitao


Libraries: Information And Knowledge Spaces

Posted: 06/23/11 01:38 AM ET

It is not often yet that an Architect will be asked to design the particular way in which digital database is accessed or the ways their visualizations or interactivity can happen. Instead, many of the points above, when distilled into a spatial design strategy tend to deal with the physical space elements as operators of the large ensemble. For this reason, the common contemporary synthesis that responds to the typological shifts above is not proportional, as seen below:

1. Miniaturization of program: Though several programs can be found in the library they partake with the other programs and spaces so that they more easily cater to their function of providing to the real main typological space -- a public space.
Libraries are less public plazas than they are miniature cities. Having several units of the same program -- in frank market competition -- seems key to making the library space a second home: several cafes, reading rooms, relaxation rooms, lecture rooms, game areas.

2. Customization:
after what could have become an inflated tendency to bring the public realm within the private, libraries clearly have private living rooms within their public space. The strong focus on a new furniture politics, its diversity, modularity and reconfigurability are evidence of a by now long standing use of libraries as a second home. The emphasis on generic comfort and "lounging" equipment as well as on open rooms for playing Wii -- with top sound equipment -- both refer back to a portable sphere of individuality, intimacy and domesticity which travels comfortably in what was formerly called collective public space.

3. Production areas: Individual or collective, production areas demand both miniaturization and customization because they are places where synthesis happens. Folksonomic systems are not news anymore and they refer to a collaboration that can happen both in co-present work meetings but as well in the "privacy" of networked individual, multi-valent, library "stations" or rooms.
Shifts also include differentiation of spaces for diverse behavior required by media or content (ex. Demographic) -- audio, image, objects, classes, interactive, games. As well, it means provision of plug-in flexibility, that is, spaces have receptors of devices brought by users -- laptops, smartphones, reading devices, mini-projection areas, etc.

4. Interiority outside: The contemporary library space engages other public spaces in the landscape it belongs to by expanding its interior outwards. Again, this seems to be a clear argument already in the Seattle Library by OMA, where a (proportionally) thin transparent mesh wraps around the interiority of the program within and its spatial play.
It seems as if architects would do away with this last barrier if possible and would directly connect these new educational centers - central for a continuing education future society - to the surrounding landscape (whatever that may become...).
This interiority is also two-fold

5. Outside outside: In a truly overlayed and overlaying society (West, developed) networked content is essential to navigate. Libraries become the possible spaces to be in the truly outside. For this reason, they tend to incorporate an exterior space within. Or multiple. Simple exterior and green spaces are now too local to be neutral. Or private. The learned, second-skin, prescribed space of the library lends more outsides to the possible exterior than the non-prescribed exterior can do now.

Information or Culture Production Center?

Historically, the archive has been defined by its content, meaning, and its cultural difference or range of cultural differences. But one could argue that if museums are more associated with the preservation of the past, libraries seem to constantly give away a society's dreams and/or preoccupations with its future. The perseverance of the library typology to pop up as counter-actors in economically harsh environments seems to be clear evidence of this.

The added value that libraries gain by sheer numbers -- diversity and quantity of materials and remote locations accessed - might continue to shift their role into cultural hubs -- literally becoming large living rooms - therefore creating new modalities of collective work-live-study spaces and the landscapes they can form. The future of libraries will perhaps be inextricably linked to a new mode of reification of locality to be produced.

The difference between public and private libraries is very relevant to this discussion and can be furthermore discussed in the context of the influence that open source and copy-left movements have had in the realm of publications and copy-right law at large. The problem of private vs. public access is never to be dismissed in design culture but is often difficult to engage directly. An addition to these transformations will be the shifting role of the librarian(s) as libraries strengthen their character as production centers.

The examples provided in the photo gallery are characteristic of this particular transition period where a merging of library spaces with their twins -- educational institutions -- creates hybrid institutions with diverse focus points on how they define their own locality.

Carla Leitão is an architect, designer and writer currently living, working and teaching Architecture in New York. Practice and academic works interests in ubiquity and intersection of new media and architecture.
Research Assistant: Benjamin Rice