Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how design conveys intention. Of course, one of the best examples we’ve read so far is The Zimbabwe Bush Pump (de Laet & Mol, 2000). And, of course, one of the best examples we’ve heard is the doorknob. As Galey and Rucker (2010) describe: “even doorknobs have politics in that they may be round, requiring a human hand to turn them, or shaped as levers, such that a person with a prosthetic limb or an armload of groceries with one free elbow can still successfully use them” (p. 3). Let’s apply the method to a familiar building:
Robarts exemplifies how the U of T administration envisioned the function of a university library. Designed in the style of architecture known as “brutalism,” the John P. Robarts Library, U of T’s largest individual library, came into existence as a graduate-only zone. In other words, the so-called Fort Book permitted MA and PhD researchers to enter the stacks (floors 9 through 13) but forced undergraduates to recall items from below. For reasons of exclusivity, therefore, the architects designed two elevator systems for the building, incorporated study carols right into the walls of each floor, and commissioned furniture intended to promote intense learning (e.g., desks incorporating high sides to block peripheral vision). To promote controlled movement of the academic researchers at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and the librarians at the Faculty of Information, the designers connected the buildings via a mezzanine fourth floor. However, early on in Robarts’ history, undergraduate protests led to the building being repurposed.
Since U of T’s undergraduates managed to get access to the stacks, U of T’s administration has since renovated Robarts to make it user friendly. For example, although they’ve left intact the elaborate conveyor belt system originally conceived to facilitate staff retrievals, they’ve removed a considerable number of books. Now the library has large open spaces, with wide tables, in the apexes. Once solid, the walls of the study rooms are now made of glass. And of course, just a year ago much of floor two was outside!
Gayley, A. & Ruecker, S. (2010). How a prototype argues. Literary and Linguistic Computing Advance 25 (4), 405–424.
de Laet, M. & Mol, A. (2000). The Zimbabwe Bush Pump: Mechanics of a Fluid Technology. Social Studies of Science 30 (2), 225–263.