Here we are, almost done with yet another quarter and in the midst of hastily trying to prepare for exams, submit assignments and secretly dream about holiday destinations to go to during the break. As I sit in a corner of our main Library trying to finish my report, I cannot help but notice the hustle and bustle around me. It is buzzing with people cramming for exams, collaborating on group projects, having heated discussions over coffee and even indulging in quick naps.
The TU Delft Library is an amazing example of a shared space. It gives you the comfort to work peacefully while still providing you with the opportunity to be inspired, just by looking around. It is a place of collective learning where you feel that you are a part of a community. This is exactly what social infrastructure is meant to do.
The term ‘social infrastructure’ finds its roots in sociology and architecture and refers to the spaces that facilitate community interactions. Social infrastructure allows you to collectively access social services like education, arts, recreation and so on. These spaces are the building blocks to a more equitable and just society as they enable people from different sections of society to come together and have equal access to a variety of public goods.
‘In many places, public libraries act as community spaces’
Libraries are one of the most important components of social infrastructure as they help communities grow by providing access to education and knowledge. Sociologist Eric Kleinberg in his recent book, Palaces for the People describes libraries as palaces for the common people as he believes these are spaces where people can go and make their lives a little bit more exalted than they are.
It is interesting to look at how the architecture of a library is also meant to add to this. Historically, most libraries around the world are designed to be monumental with high ceilings and brightly lit spaces, almost like cathedrals. They were always meant to be more than a place to store books. They were constructed in such a grandiose way to act as great social spaces that inspire people. TU Delft Library is no different. The architects wanted the building to symbolise the promising future of education and it is characterised by an enormous cone pointing through the glass ceiling into the sky. But at the same time, they also wanted it to be a place that inspires and stimulates activities. They envisioned it to be a great public space, almost like an extension of the surrounding landscape. This building becomes the heart of student life at TU Delft and exemplifies a great learning centre.
Apart from being a learning centre, libraries around the world have a variety of functions. In many places, public libraries act as community spaces where people from different walks of life can come together and participate in various activities. Not just that, but during Hurricane Sandy that hit the east coast of the USA, Princeton University library in New Jersey was transformed into a temporary shelter for people to take refuge, charge their devices, call loved ones and feel safe and secure. These structures add resilience to societies and help in our collective well-being. It has never been more important to understand the true value of these shared spaces and how we can preserve these ‘palaces of the common people’ for future generations to come.
- Malavika Krishnan (25) is a second-year MSc Urbanism student from Kochi, India. An architect by profession and a writer by passion, she loves everything to do with art and design and the way they shape the human experience.