Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Brand Lands, Hot Spots and Cool Spaces.

This is the title of an interesting book I am reading. It's subtitle is Welcome to the Third Place and the Total Marketing Experience.

The author, Christian Mikunda, suggests that “the experience society has grown up” and that we members of this society look for a combination of “entertainment with big, true feelings, with genuine materials and high-quality design, and help with our problems in everyday life.”

As I read, it struck me this could be a description of some of the more architecturally spectacular libraries that have been built in the past few years. The main branches of Seattle Public Library (Alice blogged about it on August 10th and there's lovely pictures linked), Salt Lake City Library, Vancouver Public Library (both designed by Moshe Safdie) to name only a few. I've heard people express puzzlement about these buildings in an age when the Web has become a replacement for many, for a visit or a call to the library. Why, they ask, would these edifices be built?

Back in May, Louis Rosenfeld posted to his blog from the Seattle Public Library: "I don't pretend to know anything about architecture, and I've never worked in a public library. But I do find this building fascinating. It's an interesting mix of utilitarian and whimsical. You'll encounter great finding aids, like call numbers prominently displayed on the floor next to each row of shelves...But what strikes me most is how social a place this is. Sure, many are here to enjoy an initial tour, but there are a wide variety of group-oriented seating areas. This is clearly a place to hang out and enjoy the view."

Pacific Northwest, the magazine of The Seattle Times, said in an article by William Dietrich in its April 25, 2004 issue: "Above all, the library is designed to be inviting and intuitive to people who want to find a book. Designers calculated that the downtown Barnes & Noble bookstore had 40 times the people traffic, per square foot, as the old library. Why? What was the public sector doing wrong that the private sector is doing right? They want to compete."

So, back to Mikunda and his notion of an experience society. He begins his introduction with a description of what a visitor to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice might do: have a look at the paintings and sculpture, go to the museum store, and have a coffee in the museum restaurant, all the time enjoying the particular ambiance of the location, above the Grande Canal. He describes the experience as being one of a place where one temporarily feels at home, that is emotionally powerful and allows visitors to recharge themselves. The museum is, he declares, a Third Place, one of three "staged habitats" (the others are Home and Work). Malls, theme restaurants, concept stores are all staged habitats too.

So, I am thinking that this trend of building and redesigning libraries to be impressive architecturally is a response to the need people have to spend their leisure time in staged habitats and be entertained at the same time they accomplish something--whether it's browsing books in a library or a bookstore, or visiting the Longaberger basket company which, in addition to having a head office that looks like a giant basket, also has a golf course, several restaurants and entertainers at its Homestead. All this to encourage the purchase of baskets.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that the architect Rem Koolhaas designed the Seattle Public Library and the Prada flagship store in New York city—which, by the way, is in the former SoHo branch of the Guggenheim Museum

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Now Alane, you know The Devil Wears Prada!

ruhan said...

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