Since the times of the ancient city-states, civic architecture embodied the powers and responsibilities invested in the city’s institutions by its inhabitants; hence, the civic relationship between the citizens’ social nature, its institutions and the achievement of order in the city has been symbolised in public spaces and architecture throughout history.
Architecture and urban design construct the built environment where all our activities take place; they frame and define the spaces where our lives occur and create places that resonate in our memories and experience, while linked intimately to our social, cultural and political endeavours. There is a symbiotic relationship between the city, architecture and culture; as building and urban forms not just represent and reflect social order, but they actually define and shape our social and cultural existence. This close relationship has been further highlighted in the twenty-first century by the impact of architecture in the natural environment. The architecture of our time must be defined by our ability and capacity to respond to conditions emerging from climate change.
In the twenty-first century the library typology is experiencing a renaissance and a new era of prestige across the world. The traditional library where books were collected, administered and made available to the public in an ordered manner has been complemented and enriched by the need to provide spaces where people meet, read, discuss and explore ideas in a dynamic way. In the words of Ken Worpole: “The idea of the modern public library as a ‘living room in the city’ is becoming a vital feature of modern urban culture, and architects are having to respond to this change of role” (2013: p.4). In the twenty-first century, the buildings that will come to embody the city’s civic nature, and become emblematic of public architecture, will be libraries rather than large cultural complex or museums. A city with a great library is a great city.
Libraries must be conceptualised as spaces where collections of books, either physical or virtual, are organised and made available to the public, as well as providing engaging social and cultural spaces for those accessing the material to meet. The library should be conceptualised as a poetic experience and mythical place of knowledge. A sanctuary of learning or Freespace distinct from our home and the place of work, where we can dwell, learn, question, discover and grow as individuals.
The library is a distinct building type embodying storage of knowledge and an originator of fantastic architectural forms and ideas. It is the Atelier contention, that books as cultural object, and representations of a free-thinking society, will not disappear in the foreseeable future; hence the role of libraries as sanctuaries of knowledge, centres of information and cultural dissemination will remain in the new century. Libraries need to accommodate the twenty-first century’s ‘networked’ information society with all its advances and technological driven changes, as well as becoming built expressions of our environmental and sustainable consciousness. Libraries are transforming from temples of knowledge to the living room in the city, and as such, freespaces that provide a crucial space for people to update their knowledge and keep up-to-date with ideas, as well as a place for congregations and enjoyment.