by Vincent Nieto
With the advance of technology, the library has experienced many shifts within its role in society and its design as the physical object itself. What was once a destination for individual learning with stack of physical books surrounding the user has now transformed into a place of collaboration with less physical books but with access to far more information. New and existing libraries have experienced many challenges such as the shift towards eBooks and the expansion of programmatic needs. The design of libraries today cannot just be duplicated from one location to another. It must now take into consideration the unique social needs of the users, the constant changes of programmatic needs and of course the most importantly, the position it has towards physical books itself.
So what is the new role of libraries now and in the future? How can the rise of technology and the shift of social needs be supported by libraries? The answer is simple, act an incubator. By definition, an incubator is an enclosed apparatus providing a controlled environment for the care of… and in our case, the care of learning, reading, collaboration, shelter and public outreach to name a few. Libraries must now be equipped to support the constant change in programmatic needs of the users.
As a result, the design of a library should be is like creating a pizza. Given a controlled set of toppings, each pizza can be created specifically to the needs and wants of the user. It can be one topping or it can be multiple toppings in a variety of combinations. It can be created as a whole or it can be created in divisions each having a different set of toppings. If the process of designing a library was similar to creating a pizza, the following are examples are architectural ingredients that can then be used as a kit of parts. These kit of parts are divided into three typologies; disaggregation, transformative and hybrid.
Disaggregation is the most commonly used strategy to many newer libraries today. It is the process of determining programmatic needs of the users and creating separate spaces for each, most easily achieved using walls. This strategy addresses the needs of the most common programs. However, with such predefined spaces, any shift in programmatic needs may result in areas not being able to accommodate the change, either by being too large or too small or the lighting of the space could be insufficient. Another example of disaggregation is completely removing and relocating a program off site such as library stacks.
The second typology is transformative. Transformative to my definition is a given space that can be transformed by the user at any given time. This will allow spaces to fluctuate in size and use on demand. It can be easily achieved creating movable walls and partitions such as Nana Wall and Skyfold systems. It can also be creatively achieved by using movable furniture such as stacks to create space.
The third typology is the hybrid solution. Here, hybrid takes on two definitions, the first is when two or more programs share the same space simultaneously. The second definition is when two or more programs are able to use the same space at different times of the day, week, month, and so on. One of the most common examples of a hybrid strategy found today is the combination of a coffee shop and a lounge space. Another hybrid solution seen is shifting the stacks from the center of the library into interstitial spaces such as lobbies and circulation spaces. There are many other examples of hybrid spaces and more will be created as we start to explore variations.
Each library today must be unique and specifically designed for its users. By offering a kit of parts solution, libraries can have the necessary tools for providing a controlled yet flexible environment.