Caring for more than dusty books

November 14, 2018

Libraries are infrastructures that are embedded in architecture and thereby their architecture is a great part in their prosperity or decline. The architecture needs to give an opportunity for caring for a library to be able to fulfil its role. What kind of care do libraries need? And can the architecture always attune to what a library needs?

Libraries have changed from needing to be sturdy and safe, often exclusive buildings that guard information and knowledge. Nowadays when their role and demands upon their function have shifted drastically, they need to be more open and inviting places, where patrons/users can hang out, seek recreation and be amongst other people and at the same time still host the information and knowledge as before.

How does the architecture of older libraries meet those new demands? Since the architecture was most definitely not made to accommodate the communal roles libraries have today is it possible for the architecture to shift and be changed to accommodate different functions?  Can a fortress become a community center?

In many cases it can, with spatial changes like knocking down walls and opening up formerly locked doors. Simply letting new happenings take place in the former silent almost sacred spaces within the library can make the architecture caring. Caring of the patrons, their work and innovation in serving the library visitors, is one of the main reason for the relevance of a library and for the architecture to accommodate the patrons and their work makes the architecture caring.

The architectural care of older libraries can also be to build extensions that accommodate the new roles and happenings while letting the older architecture keep its stance but saving the library from breakdown.  One of my favourite library has such a story, the original building was built in 1962 and in 2004 a new extension was built. A change which was long overdue since the library could not fulfil its role, the new part mostly hosts communal space, cafe, service desks and workspace for its patrons in good harmony and connection with older building making the library more than capable of taking on new roles.

Designing a library today is, in my opinion, a grand challenge, to make the architecture that is caring both now and in the distant future. How the libraries will change and what roles they might take on or lose is difficult to foretell. So for the architecture of the library to be caring, it needs to be flexible and adaptive. It is in some way making an architecture for the unknown.

Then it is also a question of who takes care of the architecture? How do the partons, visitors, the community, institution and governments take care of a library and how does the architecture fit into that picture?   In my opinion, the architecture needs care, from the birth of an idea and through its lifetime, to be able to care for the infrastructure it hosts.




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