Education is no longer just about transferring knowledge. It’s about equipping students with the skills – such as creativity and the ability to collaborate – that prepare them for a job market that’s in constant flux. As a result, school programmes have become more inquiry-based. And academic environments are following suit. Today’s learning spaces are increasingly adopting the culture of invention that has emerged from places like Silicon Valley. Reflecting this approach, the library of an architecture school in Bangkok is transformed into a ‘creative incubator’ where scholars don’t only consume, but also create content.

The majority of today’s students are digital natives, but that doesn’t mean they source their information solely in the virtual sphere from the comfort of their couch. As our research into the renaissance of the library for Frame 127 brought forward, younger generations actually make up a significant part of library visitors today. So, the fear that the emergence of e-books and other digital media would render the typology obsolete proved unfounded. Today’s physical libraries are, however, adapting to the present. They do so by becoming more community-oriented and by strengthening their role in modern education. Desktops are thus complemented with 3D printers, and literacy lessons supplemented with Google-sponsored coding courses.

The university library, too, is safeguarding its role on campus through the expansion of its functions. And that’s more than necessary if you ask Jim Favaro, the cofounder of Johnson Favaro, an American architecture practice with a library-rich portfolio. He points out that ‘thanks to digitization and electronic storage opportunities, the lion’s share of research may no longer require the ubiquitous presence of books where study and research take place, but study and research still do take place on university campuses and they do require a location.’

How this location is taking shape today is reflected by the Architecture Library of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, the work of design firm Department of Architecture. The local studio turned the massive 1,260-sq-m space into a student destination that goes beyond books. ‘We came to think of the library – a place of learning – in a wider definition,’ says principal Twitee Vajrabhaya. ‘We’re facing a fast-changing future and people need to be adaptive, creative and always ready to learn new things. The success of education doesn’t lie in letting students soak in knowledge that already exists, but in giving them the tools and test grounds to actively create new knowledge. So, our design focused on conceiving a creative space for architecture students to experiment, exhibit and exchange.’

To accommodate the activities specific to the life of architecture students, Vajrabhaya’s team turned the library into a ‘creative incubator’, featuring a co-working space, exhibition area, ‘casual’ lecture room and a range of different seating spots. Carrels arranged in a labyrinth configuration offer students a quiet space for more concentrated tasks. The setup of these desk areas, which is revealed by a reflective ceiling, ‘minimizes disturbance from the circulation around’. And when students have to pull an all-nighter, a mattress area on the mezzanine gives them a chance to take a quick power nap.

Physical books and magazines do still play an important role in the library, too. In fact, they are accentuated through the spatial design. Dedicated showcase spaces allow for the frontal presentation of book covers, rather than the usual compressed stacks and rows. This gallery-inspired approach continues throughout the space. A three-dimensional grid system doubles as a presentation area. ‘It becomes an experimental ground for architecture students to act on the space,’ says Vajrabhaya. ‘Thus the students are not just the users of the library’s content, but the creators.’

To future-proof their academic offerings, universities are redefining the role of their libraries as creative incubators. This requires a shift in focus: from collecting and conserving knowledge to fostering its creation and cultivation. To become such a breeding ground, the typology should traverse disciplinary boundaries and adopt features of connective, nurturing and reflective environments such as co-working spaces and exhibition halls.

This piece will be featured in our forthcoming Mar—Apr 2020 issue, Frame 133.