The Treasure Box

The pink and silver striped tin held lollies: chocolate cubed violet crumbles, or perhaps colourfully striped liquorice all-sorts. But that was not the reason I was drawn to my grandmother’s cabinet. There were interesting treasures behind the locked glass doors; bright objects that caught the eye of a small girl.

I remember the Toby mugs of varying sizes, stern faces, coloured coats, white stockings, buckled black shoes, and handles on their backs. Also elegant porcelain ladies with full skirts feathered with lace folds. A Japanese fan that revealed a pretty painted scene when unlatched. The family of small black elephants with white tusks always proved to be safe play things for children. Tea sets; elegant glasses; crystal bowls; decorated plates; and small decorated boxes that could hold hidden treasure, but when opened revealed – nothing.

cabinet_1

The thing that always attracted me the most was a beautiful silver coloured tea set. It was modern in design in comparison to the other objects held in the cabinet. But I didn’t know anything about that then. My grandmother told me that I could have it when I grew up. This embarrassed me, as my appreciation of her things was just that, and so while I continued to admire her treasures, I stopped declaring this.

My mother inherited this cabinet minus many of the treasures within. My grandmother did indeed give me the silver tea set for a significant birthday. And over the years I have collected my own treasures. These things have been in boxes for the last 2 ½ years and it is only now that I am able to unpack them and put them into my grandmother’s cabinet that I inherited from my mother.

cabinet_3

My mother collected small elephant figurines. I don’t know why. Perhaps this love grew after the time she spent in Thailand. She had many of different styles, colours, materials, and sizes. At her wake my father said to offer them around to the people there. So I placed them all onto a tray and went around offering them like a plate of sandwiches. And almost everyone would say, “No I can’t take that one. That is the nicest one and everyone will want it.” People were drawn to the different elephants and almost all of them found new homes and a memento of my mother.

It is interesting to me the value that we place on objects. Why do we do that? Sentimental reasons and nostalgia count for a lot. What might have value in the market place might not be valued by me at all. I became an Industrial Designer because I appreciate well-designed good quality objects. Once I saw the ugly cheap plastic reality of mass production I bailed from this career path, not wanting to add to the already drowning plastic fantastic universe. “Form follows function” is the dictum of Industrial Design. And yet how many ways can we construct a chair? Or a tea pot? What do we actually need in our lives?

I cherish the memory of admiring the objects in my grandmother’s cabinet. It was a pure delight not yet tarnished with notions of monetary value, possession, greed, or competition. It was a small girl’s wonder that is precious in itself.

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Library recipes

Combine books, libraries, design, art, and architecture and you have a recipe to feed me well.

This week I attended a conference at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne – Libraries as Catalysts for Placemaking.

As a Librarian and Industrial Designer, this experience was a real treat for me. Listening to people talk about, and show pictures of, current library design projects is my idea of a great day. It ignites my desires to design. Sigh!

In a past blog post I recalled how as a five year old entering the domed reading room on the State Library of Victoria inspired my desire to be an architect (and ironically, not a Librarian).

So let me tell you a little about the conference. First to present was Ethan Kent from Project for Public Spaces in New York He spoke very fast and still had to fly through half of his slides because of time constraints. He could have filled the whole day’s agenda with his relevant and interesting content. He said that libraries are important “community anchors”. He spoke of the Power of Ten, meaning ten things to do in a place. He pointed us to his website for more information on these ideas and concepts that he didn’t have time to explain more fully.

Next to present was Dan Hill, Senior Consultant from Arup. He spoke about new cultural spaces and how technology can enhance our use of public spaces from a visual and a practical perspective. His ideas included screening text onto the outside of buildings as light displays that represent the immediate and changing measurement of what is happening in a digital sense. For example, light displays as a word cloud of the names of the countries that the URL’s being accessed from the internet devices in the area that are accessing the wifi service in operation. Hmmmm. He also showed us The Cloud, project in London that is not going to be built apparently.

Several public Librarians from Victoria spoke about their experiences in recent library designs. Suzanne Gately spoke about the new Altona North Community Library. Roslyn Cousins talked about the new Colac Community Library and Learning Centre that incorporates the Colac Secondary School. Genimaree Panozzo from Moreland City Library spoke about the recent librarian’s tour of the District of Columbia Library Building Project. Sally Jones of Moonee Valley Library spoke about her trip to the USA looking at how libraries devote spaces to teenagers.

Cecilia Kugler of CK Design International spoke specifically about interior design and fit outs of public libraries and in particular the makeover of Randwick Library in NSW. Peter Moeck of the Brown Falconer Group presented his report about the new Mount Gambier Library in South Australia.

One factor that is continually repeated is the importance of using community art projects in libraries as means to effective “placemaking”. Our library service has a fantastic community art exhibition program that continues due to the continual hard work of people behind the scenes. It is already in place, valued, and effective.

After these presentations I sorted through my thoughts and impressions and began to think about the library designs that I have seen and experienced. What is it about the Mount Gambier Library that I like so much? What works and why? Because in my view it stands apart from the other library redesigns I saw presented and that I have experienced firsthand. And what makes the Mornington Library design so poor?

I recall the poor design of the brand new Mornington Library where I worked as a Librarian for many years. It was state-of-the-art, looked great, applauded, etc, etc. The colour scheme, inspired by local seaside colours of lime green, warm tones of grey/brown, looks great, the shelving and fixtures are nice and well positioned. It is an attractive and comfortable place to visit as a customer. But it was not a practical space to work in at all.

I heard the architect describe how she arrived at the inspiration for placing the first line for the plan of the building and it was by transcribing the line of the perceived route of the ship of Matthew Flinders as he explored the waters off Mornington all those years ago. This gave her a starting point that was not a straight line and forms the profile of the front elevation for the building. To my practical mind this sounded irrelevant and whimsical and even negligent. I much prefer the process being used now that begins with the people and how they want to use the place/space. This was totally ignored I think in this instance and the impractical result reflects this.

The interior of the space has placed the robust and busy children’s area next to the busy information service desk and telephones and the internet access computers. The cute colourful round padded cushions on the curved seating/shelving are perfect stepping stones for toddlers who precariously negotiate with toddler hops at chair height from the floor. The space is poorly thought out. In the afternoons the sun streams in through the immovable louvered windows straight into the eyes of the library staff who squint to see their computer screens and the faces of the customers before them. The spacious open entry forms a wind tunnel that allows cold air in winter and warm air in summer to stream through onto staff at the main service desk. The groovy cafe tendered to a local restaurant is only open for short hours that suit them and not the library customers. The staff work areas are small and don’t allow for storage, expansion or sensible work flows.

I was fortunate to visit the Mount Gambier Library last year before it opened in December and I was immediately impressed. I had seen the old Mount Gambier Library in the small dungeon of the Council offices and this new building was a huge improvement in every way. It is a lovely space to enter and be in. The central area is rectangular with high ceilings that give the feeling of being in a cathedral and light fills the space from above.

It is an intelligent design that treats its customers as intelligent. There is no “dumbing-down” in terms of signage or attitude. The minimal use of primary colours serves a practical purpose in terms of signage for easy identification of collections and zones. Overall the colours used are rich with extensive use of natural timbers and a warm patterned carpet. All the desks, shelving, display units, are custom designed and built with warm timber. This colour scheme gives the interior a feeling of tradition and permanence that many new libraries seem to be moving away from.

The children’s area is a separate area and uniquely fitted out as an underwater cave. It is surely a real drawcard for children and practical for library staff, children’s programs, and the consideration of other library users. The cafe is generous and well used. The work room also is generous with all of the latest technology implemented to make the library work the best possible, so fully-implemented RFID with a “smart” returns chute, that only opens to allow item returns by customers. Extensive use of local artists added much to the building for signage, identification, and decoration. Peter Moeck is justifiably proud of this project.

With lots to think about, I return to my little country library intent on bringing whatever small changes we can accommodate in order to make some improvements and expand our library services and facilities to be a place that continues to surprise and delight our community.

Extreme Libraries

Mt Gambier Library entrance

Mount Gambier Library in South Australia is a new shiny purpose built, state of the art, no expense spared library. It opens on 17th December 2009. I was fortunate to visit this week to attend a library seminar held there. The new building is completed but the beautiful new timber shelves were bare, silently waiting for the new stock to arrive. Contractors and technicians were finishing the main desk, installing the security gates at the entry, and other little last minute jobs. The technology is state of the art with numerous flat screen TVs, fully implemented RFID, a light bright work room with all the tools of the trade and space to spread out, meeting rooms with smart boards, mini cinema areas, a cafe, and the most amazing cave that is the children’s area.

Mt Gambier Library

The seminar was titled Best Sellers. Paul Brown from Manukau Libraries in New Zealand presented an interesting, useful and thought-provoking session on Reader Advisory services in libraries. He reminds us that this is indeed the core business of public libraries and I applaud him for this focus.

By contrast, just 78 kilometres away, I visited the Digby Library as part of the outreach services maintained by the Glenelg Libraries in Victoria. This tiny old dusty collection of yellowed books is held in an old Mechanics Institute building. We replaced the small stock of new library books and materials for the local farming community. Outside in the dusty carpark we struggled to get a signal to connect to the internet to make the data upload/download. Meanwhile the sun beat down, sweat dripped from our foreheads, and the horses and goats looked with bored indifference.

Digby library

This outreach service goes to small community centres in Heywood and Casterton, a Bush Nursing Hospital in Merino, a local shop in Dartmoor, and the Mechanics Institute Hall in Digby.

Two libraries close together geographically, but as extremely apart from each other as is possible in our society.

Grand Designs

Grand Designs is my favourite TV show at the moment. It really is a great concept. Made in the United Kingdom and intelligently hosted by Kevin McCloud, it follows domestic building projects from start to finish.

There are a wide variety of circumstances that add to the interest and individuality of each unique project. Some people use professional architects, project managers, builders, etc. Others use one or two, while some go at the project alone – bravely or perhaps foolishly. It is often surprising to see the results from some really determined people.

For Australians it offers some architectural work not commonly seen here in Australia. For starters we lack old stone castles, and you won’t find too many buildings over 200 years old ripe for renovation. Then there are the obvious climatic differences. This brings a whole range of differing factors that shape the design and construction of the buildings. Their ground is a lot different to ours. They experience a lot more mud than we’ll ever see. The heat and light in Australia are harsher and this means we design to accommodate those conditions. You don’t see too many verandas in UK building design. But those UK cousins of ours soldier on, building their castles in the snow and mud and cold. You really have to admire their tenacity. How many aussie tradies do you know that knock off and go surfing if the conditions are right? And good luck to them.

Kevin McCloud brings intelligent commentary to the process. He plays the devils advocate baiting the starry-eyed visionaries with possibilities of things that could go wrong. His background in architecture and design ensures his input comes from a solid knowledge base and understanding.

It is a real pity Australian TV production companies don’t take careful note of the popularity of this show amongst Australian viewers. Everyone I talk to watches it and loves it as much as I do. I thought my background in industrial design made me specifically attuned to this show, but it seems to reach beyond that. I suppose we all dream of beautiful homes to own and live in, and we’d all like to shape that nest to fit our own unique sensibilities.

I cringe at the aussie shows like Location Location and Backyard Blitz. When Better Homes and Gardens comes on I can’t change channels quick enough. The loud discordant theme music is enough to make me shudder and this is quickly followed by the shouting bullying monologue of the presenters.

Even the introductory theme music of Grand Designs is beautiful and of real quality. Well done Kevin McCloud and Grand Designs and the ABC for airing it in Australia. On Facebook I’ve joined the groups Kevin McCloud Makes Architecture Sexy and The Kevin McCloud Appreciation Society. Cool!!