Architects are concerned with designing buildings that are ‘socially sustainable’. (They do not want to have one of their buildings demolished ten years after it was built.) But, what does social sustainability mean?
There are various ways of interpreting social sustainability. In some circles it is understood as what is in the interests of the community. In Designing for Social Sustainability, Saffron Woodall, writing about housing developments explains:
‘New developments need to be well planned to ensure that basic amenities and a robust social infrastructure are in place … However, many of the aspects cannot be planned in advance … Rather, master plans need to allow for a degree of ambiguity, uncertainty and openness to change, recognising that a new community will develop best if it is allowed to be dynamic and to evolve in ways that the planners cannot entirely predict’.
More space = space for growth.
Space is naturally being made available in public libraries. There has been a reduction in a number of books on the shelves and a reduction in the number of fixed desk-top computers which means that librarians have more space. What are they doing with it? They are handing this space over to their patrons. Librarians are doubling the number of chairs and desks for adults who may want to work in the library.
The librarians with whom I spoke anticipate that patrons will need more space over the coming years. So, librarians are requesting that this ‘spare’ space is included when architects design new public libraries, in anticipation of this growing demand for more space for their patrons.
In Calgary’s new central library, Snohetta and DIALOG have resolved this need for more space, not by including additional space, but by creating adaptable areas. As Ellen Humphry, Deputy CEO explained:
‘Even the behind the scenes workspace are designed in such a way that they can be transformed into public spaces if we wanted to move all the back of house activities out of the building. So, that was our expansion strategy, rather than build more space that wasn’t occupied we decided to design the behind the scenes workspace so they can be vacated’.
The carpet colour is the same back and front to indicate a seamless connection between the two. ‘It’s a visable manifestation of the idea we had’, explains Ellen. There are also no load baring walls in the back of house areas.
Librarians have no idea what services and spaces patrons will need in the future. It is by ensuring their space is adaptable, then, that they will remain socially sustainable.