A crash course in changing the world.
3. Idea: Spark Library Partnership
This section will outline a vision for a new type of library focused on staging a relationship between both the incredible array of resources available online and the physical building that embodies the local culture. The attempt will be to offer organized access to the greatest population, at the least cost.
3.1 Spark Library Partnership
The basic tenants of the Spark Library Partnership are: 1) to provide zones of information access (e.g. libraries) that combine wide-spread knowledge sharing with local insight in an effort to trigger the discovery of solutions to immediate and compelling problems through 2) the establishment of structures that are a combination of standardized, technologically equipped cores and auto-constructed bodies.
3.1.1 Social Enterprise
This entire undertaking registers as a social enterprise on two important scales. First, at the level of the global, creating an interconnected network of libraries would facilitate a reaching out by individuals in Africa to other online communities, either regional or international, in order to enrich their lives and help meet whatever pressing challenges they might face. Conversely, it would allow for a reaching in by individuals from all parts of the world to these locales in Africa in order to discover the valuable attributes unique to each specific node. Additionally, at the local level, each physical library would serve as an important piece of a community’s urban fabric and can be developed with regard to the distinct qualities specific to that place.
3.2 Power Structure
When proposing a large wave of new libraries, it is key to evaluate the power structure that would facilitate such an undertaking.
3.2.1 Carnegie Precedent
The Carnegie Library endowment is an extremely useful analogue. Between 1886 and 1917 Carnegie underwrote the construction of nearly 1,700 libraries in the U.S., which represented roughly half the 3,500 of libraries in the entire country by the time the final endowment was issued. Additionally, the philanthropic juggernaut would build another 800 libraries abroad and in the process spearhead the modernization of the library; transforming it from a conservative ninetieth century autocracy to a squarely public agency streamlined for maximum efficiency.
A defining moment was the establishment of the Carnegie Corporation, a new company set up specifically as a machine to start giving away the millionaire’s fortune. The corporate metaphor was backed up with teeth; Carnegie demanded his charitable companies run with the same efficiency that his for-profit businesses had. To ensure this he brought in his personal secretary, James Bertram, to oversee the administration of the library endowment. The kid gloves of the benevolent donor were cast off and replaced with shrewd contractual agreements of a steel magnate. The act of giving was transformed into a business transaction and if a community wanted a library it would have to follow clearly defined protocols, which gradually become known as the “Carnegie formula.” In order to handle the massive volume of projects, the process had to be kept simple and straightforward. Therefore, in order to receive a library grant, each applicant must: 1) Demonstrate a need for a library; 2) Tax itself 10% of the construction grant indefinitely to ensure operation costs; 3) Provide a site and; 4) Provide free service to all in the community.
Over the course of implementing hundreds of libraries, Bertram compiled his observations and eventually produced a short pamphlet entitled “Notes on the Erection on Library Buildings.” It went through multiple additions and by 1911 accompanied all formal grant offers. The “Notes” summarize in a few brief pages the seismic changes rendered unto the library. While generally the doc**ent is careful not to assume a position of too much control, the strongest language is aimed at libraries of the past, stating that, “many buildings erected years ago, from plans tacitly permitted at the time, would not be allowed now.” The notes go onto explain in a crisp and matter-of-fact tone that the Carnegie Corporation is interested in, above all, economy. The clearest indication is the only phrase in the doc**ent singled out with dramatic emphasis:
TO OBTAIN FOR THE MONEY THE UTMOST AMOUNT OF EFFECTIVE ACCOMMODATION, CONSISTENT WITH GOOD TASTE IN BUILDING.
3.2.2 Contemporary Players
Who will lead the way in the next great wave of library proliferation? Everyone. The beauty of a densely networked culture is that massive and shocking changes can be implemented by the spontaneous cooperation of millions of individuals. Still, when you examine the actual cast of characters, finer meshes of detail emerge and each node in the system plays a unique and powerful role. As discussed in section two, one can break the world down into information haves and have-nots. The haves are those citizens of the OECD countries already building the online knowledge base. The best single thing they can do at the present time is support open access protocols. That way, when the digital divide closes and the information have-nots (e.g. India, Africa, and China) become haves, the channels of information absorption, creation, and sharing will be wide open to billions of new knowledge producers.
What about the contemporary Carnegies? Indeed, there is plenty of room for contribution from the current philanthropic superstars. Bill Gates is, of course, a prime candidate for such contribution and already gives generously to libraries. Perhaps his foundation could leverage greater effectiveness for his capital investment if instead of focusing on providing the Internet to existing libraries he could construct new libraries on the frontiers of broadband connectivity. Additionally, any number of philanthropic individuals or agencies could step up to fund individual libraries. Since the entire web-connected world stands to benefit from the knowledge that will be produced by the affected population, many parties have an interest in seeing the network flourish.
Google also has a role to play and are already doing a remarkable job. The most powerful online search engine has already expanded to providing a broad cache of free online services that seem to get better every day. The Google Book Project is also a key piece in the puzzle, with its mission to "...organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful...The tremendous wealth of knowledge that lies within the books of the world will now be at our fingertips.” The sustained effort of Google and other likeminded companies is vital.
3.3 Physical Infrastructure
Online networks to the side, there is still the task of conceiving of and implementing the physical infrastructure. The opportunity exists for a significant revamping of the library as a typology, and such questions suggest a systematic approach that favors resilient planning strategies and avoid the Buckminster Fullerarian trap of total design, which leads to extremely complex systems that are hard to execute and delicate to maintain.
3.3.1 Addressing Local Needs at a Global Scale
Strategies that address most of these compelling and immediate issues already exist, but lack both widespread understanding and will towards implementation. How can designers partner with local communities to have a maximum impact, in the shortest amount of time, with limited resources? What models have been developed that should be interrogated, modified, and redeployed? What are the tactics and strategies (rather than definitive answers) to these contemporary questions? How can we scale responsibility from the top down and grass-roots level involvement from the bottom up to spark significant progress in the immediate future?
3.3.2 Open Building Systems
How would such a space be organized? What would be its diagram? If it goes beyond a single project and becomes an entire network of interconnected and cooperative libraries, then what is the prototype? To begin unpacking these questions, I’d like to start by dividing the spaces in the library into two types: knowledge production space and knowledge storage space. (figure 3.1)
Figure 3.1: Programmatic Distribution –The programmatic components in the library are split into two types: knowledge production spaces and knowledge storage spaces. In open building systems terms, the storage spaces will act as the permanent support with a limited amount of internal territory for expansion. The knowledge production spaces, which are subject to the ambient organizational shifts as production needs continue changing, will have a much greater territory to accommodate expansion, change, and flexibility in use.
When the production spaces are activated, that is, they begin generating information, the knowledge produced will go in one of two directions: digitally produced content will go straight online, while anything produced with a physical body that cannot be satisfactorily digitized has the potential to be absorbed by the librarians/archivists into to the library’s permanent collection. I propose that this organizational strategy could become the basic prototype for all libraries in the network. (figure 3.2)
Figure 3.2: Activation – When the production space is activated it generates content that flows in one of two directions: either onto the web as digital content or into the library’s archive as physical artifacts.
3.3.3 Typical vs. Atypical
In terms of building system strategies, I believe that there are multiple ways of achieving this diagram and if you committed it to a brief and distributed it to twenty different architects you would receive twenty unique designs (ranging in effectiveness, but nevertheless fundamentally meeting the challenge). This point is not a digression. When attempting to implement a systematic approach to a problem it is important not to over-design the system, which again leads to solutions that are inflexible, hard to implement, and delicate to maintain.
An existing approach that seems to be a logical response to this diagram is an open building system, which establishes an up-front support framework and opportunity for ongoing infill through the provision well-defined territory. Support consists of the “hard part” of a building, including the structure, mechanical systems, plumbing, and initial spaces for occupation. Over the course of the life of the building, the territory, or zones of the building left for future development, can be filled in to accommodate temporally appropriate needs. The building system compliments the diagram in several ways. First, it accounts for both stability (critical to current library) and flexibility (severely lacking in the current library, but abundant in related typologies, such as the mediatheque). The stability would be provided by the support and include information technology, a steady source of energy, a safe and reliable structure. The production spaces, which are subject to unpredictable (i.e. ambient) organizational shifts as production needs continue changing, will have a much greater territory in which to expand and change in their use. In his article Ambient Organization, Brandon Hookway introduces the provocative notion that, “organization is the gaze, while ambience is the glimpse.”
The gaze versus glimpse construction is an incredibly powerful way of describing how this library can begin to take shape. The gaze are those parts of the library typology that endure, that capture and celebrate the physical memories of a people, in short, the hard core of the library’s power at leveraging cultural agency. The glimpse is altogether different; it is the hazy, enveloping, dispersed, noisy, and overlapping “order” that is the prevailing logic of online networks. If we can articulate the ambient in tectonic terms, then we can begin approaching a library that works for patrons with both physical and virtual needs.
3.3.4 The Elemental: a Case Study in Typical vs. Atypical
“Every time we come here, we have surprises. The Energy is incredible.”
Gonzalo Arteaga of Elemental during a site visit to the Renca Housing Development
To illustrate these themes and the immense potential they represent it is useful to look at a contemporary example. While this particular instance deals with housing, the fundamental construction methodology, scale of projects, and stunning economic model can be translated to other building types – such as the library.
The Elemental is a group of designers and strategists organized in 2003 and based in Santiago, Chile that utilizes open building strategies combined with auto-construction. Despite being a relatively small operation, Elemental has already completed seven major developments equating to 737 total dwellings, with an additional seven projects either in construction or development adding another 708 dwellings.
As a case study, we can look at the first major development from Elemental: the Quinta Monroy settlement in Santiago, Chile. The project, commissioned by the Chilean government, was the reorganization of 100 families living in a small informal urban settlement and stipulated that the families should participate in the design process. The only way the team was able to provide a successful solution was to distribute the upfront capital equally among all residents, provide only the basic services to each unit, and to activate the residents themselves as a significant contributor to the project. This involvement began in earnest in the design process, with architects working with residents and to develop a vision for the future project, and continued after official construction commenced, with residents taking the initiative to finish the units themselves. According to Elemental, eighteen months after the first houses were turned over to their owners, more than half had been expanded to beyond 50 m2 from the original 36 m2.
By turning control of the ultimate outcome of the building over to the residents, the project also generates a palpable amount of enthusiasm. In other Elemental projects, residents took the principles of auto-construction beyond their private territory and began making improvements to the shared community spaces. Formally, the built-out projects represent an incredibly compelling combination of underlying architectural intention, mingled with the themes developed by the inhabitants of the community. (figure 3.3)
Figure 3.3 Quinta Monroy Housing - Before (TOP) and After (Bottom) Auto-Construction (Source: Elemental)
Perhaps the most promising attribute that suggests widespread success of open building methods is a look at the bottom line. Open building combined with auto-construction has demonstrated that with a minimal investment from centralized funding authority, small communities can create buildings of significant value. In the case of Quinta Monroy, the government investment in the land, basic infrastructure, and first 50% of the house cost $7,500 USD per unit. According to post-occupancy evaluations the cost to a resident to build-out the second half of their unit was on average $750, bringing the total invested to $8,250. Within two years of construction these same units had a market value of roughly $20,000. The process of building equity through revaluation of the land and transferring that wealth to the families is what Elemental terms building middle-class DNA.
3.3.5 Applying this Model to the Library
The notion of providing a community with “the hard part” of a library would mean providing initial program spaces, a safe and reliable structure, information technology, and a steady source of energy. The community would be responsible for any additional spaces that would enliven and enrich the atmosphere of the library. This partnership would yield multiple benefits, among which are: minimized up-front capital investment from centralized funding agents; greater community involvement in the establishment of the library; opportunity to capitalize on local building materials, methods, and labor; unique identity for each individual member within the network; and the ability for each library to develop according to their needs and within their means.
3.4 Making Places of Collective Memory
It remains an imperative task of both the design team and the community to understand the library as a space that stages a relationship between the virtual and the physical. If only the virtual is represented, then the unique identity of a community is in danger of waning. If only the physical is addressed, then the incredible wealth of information available from the network goes unutilized.
 Auto-construction is a process where only a portion of a building (typically involving the primary structure, spaces, and systems) is constructed initially by professionals. Later, the remainder is finished by the inhabitants.
 The terms reaching out and reaching in are being appropriated from Richard Baraniuk, the Victor E. Cameron Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University.
 Van Slyck observes that Carnegie fell back on using the term corporation because there had not yet existed a term for a company whose sole purpose was to give away money. Ibid 24.
 This point is borrowed from Antone Picon, who raised it during a Q&A session with Bill dunster of ZEDfactory during the Conference on Ecological Urbanism, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, April 3-5, 2009.
 Since everyone seems to have a different definition for the term diagram, I’d like to specify that, for me, a diagram is a two-dimensional geometric symbolic representation of information according to some visualization technique, which provide an abstract way for thinking about organization. The variables in an organizational diagram can include both formal and programmatic configurations.
 Open building systems have a significant slate of literature, but the specific ideas cited here may be found in: Habraken, N. John. "Control and Complexity." Places vol.4 no.2 (1987) pg. 3-15
 A mediatheque is an establishment, generally public, which preserves and provides access to various types of media and is not centered on the physical book.
 Hookway, Brandon. “Ambient Organization,” in Log 5 ed. R.E. Somel and Sarah Whitting (MIT Press: Cambridge, 2005), 65
 Gudrais, Elizabeth. "Housing With Dignity." Harvard Magazine, November 7, 2008
 Durack, Ruth. “Village Vices: The Contradiction of New Urbanism and Sustainability.” In PLACES 14 vol. 2 (2001)
 Gudrais, Elizabeth. "Housing With Dignity." Harvard Magazine, November 7, 2008
 VERB editors, “Quinta Monroy, Iquique: Elemental / Alejandro Aravena,” in VERB Crisis, ed. Mario Ballestreros, Irene Hwang, Tomoko Sakamoto, Michael Kubo, Anna Teta, Albert Ferre, Ramon Prat (Actar: Barcelona, 2008), 291