PhD Research at The Bartlett, UCL
awarded Scholarship from CAPES Foundation
Supervisors: Sophia Psarra and Alan Penn
2012-16

Shortlisted for the RIBA President's Awards For Research 2017
Category: 'Cities and Communities'

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Political and cultural agendas determine the programmes of public libraries, implying complex and often conflicting requirements in terms of their functioning. On the one hand, they need to provide open and equal access to knowledge. On the other, they have needs that might restrict or condition the distribution of occupation, movement and various activities. At the same time, social and technological changes cause these typologies to change from within so as to include the idea of socialisation as a form of learning. The literature, although acknowledging this complexity, does not offer an integrated and synthetic theory of how these aspects interrelate. It is the intention of this thesis to try to bridge this gap and provide a theoretical framework that contributes to the understanding of how space, programme and use interrelate in public libraries in order to express an intended public message and fulfil a specific social and cultural effect.

The thesis looks at Medellín as a case study, where public libraries are being constructed as key elements of a project that addresses social inequalities. Through spatial analysis using space syntax methods, the thesis provides a thorough description of these libraries’ spatial configuration and their spatial organisation of programme. In addition, it shows how the libraries are used through a detailed mapping of users’ co-presence, which exposes patterns that are further associated with the spatial and programmatic arrangements. The integration between these three analyses enables the formulation of types of spatial cultures in public libraries and exposes the role of space and programme in influencing the formation and/or constraint of particular patterns of use. Depending on how public libraries control public use (spatially and programmatically), they can support the emergence of unprogrammed activities or work as educational institutions only. In addition, depending on how public libraries’ educational role is manifested in space as spatial practices, they can serve as places that facilitate the exercise of institutional-bureaucratic power to normalise visitors’ behaviours, or places that stimulate public participation and negotiation. The findings emphasise the role of the ‘publicness’ of public libraries to promote social change through strengthening the collective engagement of the surrounding communities.

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Links to publications associated with this research:

Space and Planned Informality (2014), in AZ ITU Journal of Architecture

Disciplined Informality (2016), in Journal of Space Syntax

Spatial Cultures of Public Libraries, UCL PhD Thesis (2016)

A Comprehensive Approach To Urban Upgrading (2017), in SSS11

Arquitetura como dispositivo político (2017), in Revista Prumo

Political interiors: the case of public libraries (2017), in Space and Culture Journal

Architecture for politics (2018), in RIBA President's Awards (Forthcoming)

Political theatres in the urban periphery
(2018), in Bitácora Urbano Territorial