“The Shared Aesthetics of the New Public Library”
Sanna Lehtinen (Aalto University)

part of: Toward a Third Place Aesthetics: An Afternoon Symposium on the Aesthetics of Communal Life
April 22, 2022, 3:00pm - 4:00pm
Department of Philosophy, New School for Social Research

Theresa Lang Community and Student Center (Rm. I202)
55 W 13th St
New York
United States

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

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Public libraries have an important link to the everyday lives of people through their main function: they present the idea that the cultivation of intellectual values is an everyday practice and that this should be available to everyone. The increased use of electronic books or cheap access to the internet has not diminished the value of providing the community with access to books and information. On the contrary, it has been proven increasingly significant to offer the public a place to pursue independent education, a place that is specifically earmarked to the cultivation of values such as intellectual freedom and life-long learning but also those directly related to the aesthetic realm such as creativity, imagination, and cross-cultural and cross-generational influences: the uses of libraries might be changing but their social functions seem to be resilient to the change. As non-commercial spaces, they complement the opportunities offered by public space in many cities and, unlike in most museums, there is no entrance fee to the library. Philosophical aesthetics opens an important approach to study this intersection of architecture, use, and social value but increasingly significant would be to study public libraries specifically as places that make visible the ongoing process of deliberation about everyday aesthetic values: how that which is valued is actively chosen and cherished by the community every single day.  

This paper explores recent developments in everyday aesthetics in the context of public libraries as the so-called third places of contemporary society. The award-winning Oodi Central Library (ALA Architects, 2018) in downtown Helsinki serves as a contemporary example that embodies many mainstream aesthetic values. It has won international recognition both for its architecture and approach to fulfilling its function (Public Library of the Year 2019; DETAIL, 2020; Project of Influence in 2020 by the international The Best in Heritage conference). Creating a sense of place has been the aim of involving the users in the development of the Central Library from the start: it has been described as a place that also shapes its community after its completion. This idea of community building is linked to the physical features of the place, how inviting and accessible it is, whether it offers places to sit down and relax, how the functions are arranged in spaces and what type of atmosphere is created as a sum of the place and its use. The intention has been to create a place to “hang out” and to offer space for more or less unplanned time for many different types of user groups. The location of Oodi in Töölö Bay area is aesthetically significant and its architectural values have been praised as representing inclusion in advanced ways. However, the paper points also criticism towards some of the recognized "third place" features of the venue, mainly its location and some negative consequences that its particular approach to inclusion has fostered. 

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