Familiar Façades: An inquiry into class-cultural interpretations of architecture and the inclusiveness of public libraries.

Dennis Mathysen

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis


Public libraries, sometimes considered outdated cultural institutions in an increasingly digital world, have seen a decline in attendance numbers in recent years, especially among visitors with lower levels of education. Public libraries have also significantly altered their ‘look and feel’ in the last two decades, with many now being housed in buildings with a very contemporary and ‘iconic’ architectural style. Our research explores whether these two developments are connected and how education- and class-based differences regarding the perception and experience of architecture affect the inclusiveness of public libraries. Analyses conducted on data we gathered in a large scale user
survey in Flemish public libraries show that the (architectural style of the) building and interior of a public library is determinative for it being considered inviting (or not) by users and also suggest that different types of (potential) visitors experience public library buildings with varying (and sometimes contrasting) architectural styles differently. An experimental research design (using Virtual Realitytechnology) was developed, allowing us to study what exactly makes buildings and spaces less inviting for certain types of (potential) visitors. We found that both lower educated and elderly respondents tend to find ‘iconic’ libraries less recognizable (as libraries) and less inviting and that
they often feel uncomfortable in voicing critique towards them. Among other things, this raises important questions regarding the practice of ‘community consultation’, an often-used instrument by policy-makers and architects during the realisation of public buildings. Our findings suggest that class-cultural interpretations of architecture are important to take into consideration when constructing public buildings and spaces and that building in a more inclusive architectural style can help public libraries better fulfil the emancipatory task that society has bestowed on them.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Sociology
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Glorieux, Ignace, Supervisor
Award date9 Sep 2021
Place of PublicationBrussels
Publication statusPublished - 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Familiar Façades: An inquiry into class-cultural interpretations of architecture and the inclusiveness of public libraries.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this