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Populist versus Virtuous Image: the architecture of public libraries

Part 1 Dissertation 2006
Justine Newby
University of Newcastle Newcastle Australia
Over the past decade there has been an historical shift in the expectations of the public library as a space and place. The shift is being driven by clients and society, and is towards the library becoming a stimulating destination. Clients, typically local authorities, are seeking image-led strategies to revitalise town centres, and are seeing the public library as a cultural strategy for urban regeneration. The customers want a responsive and exciting environment.

This shift is significant to the architectural profession as it has occurred together with a worldwide increase in new library buildings. Architecturally this change is being translated into an emerging retail vocabulary that draws on place marketing and cultural regeneration strategies. The dominant theme emerging from the literature is the central role of image and atmospherics. It is also the link between the library literature and the literature on place marketing and cultural regeneration. The tension in this literature is between the populist image of the new library and the virtuous image of the traditional public library. This tension may be the catalyst for a creative architectural response; however this has not been investigated in the architectural field. The architectural community needs to identify ways to negotiate this tension.

The research methodologies used to explore the topic area of place marketing, culture-led urban regeneration and library typology are case studies and logical argumentation. Through a logical argumentation and case study strategy, the Seattle Central Library is analysed in this paper. The Seattle Central Library is an exemplar new model library, and through it the paper attempts to describe the new architectural language that is emerging, its appropriateness, and to highlight key issues. The elements of the logical system have been developed from the literature review and combine the key architectural elements that help create "library environment" - place, space, flow, light and material - with the recognised critical success factors of the new model library. These factors are visibility/legibility, flexibility/adaptability, sustainability, and image/atmospherics. New public libraries need to be both popular and virtuous, and the task for the architectural profession is achieving this balance.

Justine Newby

The Research Paper is aimed at students developing theoretical insights related to their design project.

Students are required to write a 7,500 word paper; define a research question; conceptualize a research problem based upon a literature critique; review research methodologies, develop a position and theoretically investigate the problem. The one semester course involves weekly: 2 hour lectures, 2 hour tutorial supervisor led.

Justine’s paper was outstanding with a particularly dense examination of the literature. At an undergraduate level she has grappled with logical argumentation and produced an insightful, creative and mature response to the emerging library typology.

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