Master of Fine Arts
The U.S. economy, democracy, and the health and happiness of citizens depends on maintaining social capital, the networks of bonds between community members. Social capital creates the trust that facilitates action and cooperation for mutual benefit. Since the 1960s, there has been a decline in-person socialization and social bonds both within and between demographic groups in the US resulting in reduced social capital (Putnam, 2000).
One measure to combat declining social capital is to create third places where incidental and repeated social interactions build and reinforce bonds between community members (Oldenburg, 1997).
With the reduction of accessible and inclusive public third places, many libraries have responded by adapting to act as community hubs. Libraries have updated their archetypal interior design and programming to be a contemporary third place. In a recent Pew Study 90% of Americans ages 16 and older said that the closing of their local public library would have a negative impact on their community (Pew Research Center, 2020).
This research will examine how interior design can establish and reinforce bridging and bonding social ties for the purpose of strengthening community and social capital. The interior design of a library acting as a third place will focus the investigation.
Some expected avenues of research include how placemaking - the reflection of the community’s identity in a place, and participatory design - the involvement of the community in a meaningful way during the design process, impact the success of a third place.
Current literature regarding social capital, the spatial characteristics of third places, participatory design, and placemaking will be reviewed including Putnam’s “Bowling Alone”, Oldenburg’s “The Great Good Place”, and Klinenberg’s “Palaces for the People”.
A precedent study will compare and contrast existing libraries that act as community centers. The selected libraries are the Francis A. Gregory Neighborhood Library by Adjaye Associates in Washington, D.C. and the Libbie Mill Library by Quinn Evans in Henrico, VA. Direct observation will be conducted to examine common activity types, circulation patterns, user interactions, and user’s adjustments to the spaces. The libraries will be studied with a focus on how participatory design and placemaking were used in their development process and their success at meeting the new demands of third places.
Placemaking requires that a space has meaning to its users. When a place has meaning to its users, the space becomes part of the community members’ self-identity. This creates an attachment to the place and reinforces the members’ belonging to the community surrounding the place. Place attachment and the sense of community promotes health, safety, social interaction, and mutual aid (Hull, 1992).
Community participation and co-production in the planning and design process, based on Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation, increases the likelihood that a sense of place within the host community will be developed as an outcome of the planning and design process (Ellery, 2019).
Successful third places often have the following characteristics: active, accessible, available as needed, inclusive of diverse populations, flexible, permeable to the outside, and containing ample seating.
Based on these results, this project will study how a library can be designed as a third place that fosters connections, builds community, and restores social capital. Through the study of the precedent libraries the design will suggest an effective way to employ participatory design, placemaking, and best practice spatial characteristics of third places to create a successful community space.
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