City as a Library


StudioBASAR Explore Methods of Urban Knowledge Production

The typology of the library as a resource – both as site of knowledge and a collective process – can reveal much about the urban context in which it is situated. While it exists as a built entity and can serve as a public space, it also operates metaphysically as a live network of past and future knowledge. The manner in which these functions have been augmented or curbed has often mirrored the logics of larger socio-political systems. For this reason, the library is an effective lens through which to consider how different forms of knowledge are derived from and disseminated within the city.

The organisers of the Making Futures workshop City as a Library, Alex Axinte and Cristi Borcan of the Bucharest-based studioBASAR, can attest to the shifting identity of the library, having looked to the typology to explore the relationship between knowledge production and public space in the Romanian capital pre- and post-1989. Prior to the fall of the communist system, libraries in Romania served an ideological function, with information stored rather than disseminated. Librarians acted as “gatekeepers” to (potentially dangerous) knowledge contained within. Post-89, libraries were freed of this burden, but to their function as collective resource has been to a new limitation – that of “reverse censorship” seeking to obliterate the communist past.

Mirroring this process, the role of the architect and the nature of public space also emerged from these restrictive conditions and evolved into new forms of compromise. Freed from work on projects associated with forced collectivisation and planning as an economic model in itself, the architect now finds themselves affected by a kind of “disengagement paradigm”, working at a remove. In addition, public space has emerged from these former controls only to find itself subject to new forms of conflict introduced by the contemporary, capitalist system – form surveillance to data-mining. Against this backdrop, the library represents a furtive ground in which to ground agency. A common space that bridges the public with the private, its network is decentralised and embedded throughout city, a site where long-term strategies can find a local anchor as well as connection with a wider network. What could be learned from the example of the library as a constellation?

This understanding provided an impetus for the Making Futures workshop, which adopted a library “perspective” to consider, firstly, different forms of knowledge that can be produced in urban context and secondly, different ways in which to test and experiment with them. How might this knowledge and those processes include not just experts but also stakeholders?  Through engaging with two nearby sites, Hohenstaufenplatz and Schillerpromendade, and an already embedded local actor, a neighbourhood project called Commonslab that seeks “more communal, convivial and caring ways of living, thinking and acting together”, participants experimented with strategies for co-producing knowledge about the city, for the city.  Key to the endeavours was the distinction that knowledge and information are not the same thing. Knowledge is gained through an educational process.