Reading Space: The Common Room

Over the past two decades, public libraries have negotiated varying shifts in their function as cultural and collecting institutions. While libraries continue to offer resources for self-education, spaces for gathering, discourse and debate, they are now also frequently sites of wider community-centred recreation activities, events, and support services. Collaborating designers Nicola Cortese, Lauren Crockett and Stephanie Pahnis were invited to think about libraries and the possibilities for a public resource room within an exhibition about public space. 

Reading Space: The Common Room comprises a library of written materials on public art, public culture and public space that have been donated, selected and recommended as an outcome of an open call and a collaboration with the Melbourne Art Library. Additionally, a recommended reading list can be viewed online. You can donate, loan or suggest a publication here.


Reading Space: The Common Room also serves as a welcoming space for book clubs, tutorials, meetings and discussion groups to use during gallery hours.

Designers’ statement: 

Public culture is in perpetual flux. This has been accelerated as a consequence of the pandemic, where in an instant, collective social rituals and behaviours were transformed, as well as the ways in which we interact with and inhabit space. In contrast to this, the state of architecture is one of permanence, often unable to keep up with the pace of the world around it.

Public space, in an urban context, is often defined by central and dominant statues and civic monuments. These monuments regularly portray outdated historical narratives that ostracise much of the public they supposedly embody. Much like architecture, these monuments are emblematic of permanence, reflecting notions of power and singularity.

This project seeks to break down the idea of the static monument, establishing Reading Space: The Common Room as a decentralised and agile monument that is representative of the public who inhabit it. A space that is designed to be reconfigured, added to, and archived through the collective agency of the public.

Reading Space: The Common Room is intended to symbolically soften the institution, encourage a sense of slowness, and allow for individual autonomy over the space to support spatial practices of care and community. 

About the designers:

Stephanie Pahnis is an architectural designer, educator and researcher practicing in Naarm/Melbourne. Her current research focus is embedded in the cultural meaning, histories and life cycles of materials embedded in our built environment as a means of an ecologically attuned architectural practice. Since co-founding Caliper Journal, the ongoing publishing, editing, exhibitions and events affiliated to the architectural publication has assisted Pahnis in broadening the application of architectural ideas across various scales and mediums.

Lauren Crockett is an architect with a background in design, publishing and education. The focus of her research is the impact of cultural and technological shifts on the way that people relate to each other in both physical and digital environments. She co-founded independent architectural publication Caliper Journal in 2017 and continues to write, teach and practice within the architecture and design field.

Nicola Cortese is an architect, designer, educator and co-founder of Caliper Journal. Her interest lies in architecture’s potential to function more broadly as an interdisciplinary tool that can facilitate research and produce shared knowledge. She explores this cross-disciplinary approach by questioning the intersection of spatial design practices and other means of communication such as publishing, writing and curating. 

Reading Space: The Common Room is supported by Melbourne Design School at the University of Melbourne and a number of generous sponsors:
Carpet: Godfrey Hirst; Lighting: Dowel Jones Arcade Pendants; Seating: Lauren Lea Haynes Desert Pea Chairs; Upholstery: Sustainable Living Fabrics; Joinery:  Joshua Anderson; Joinery Material: Laminex; Paint: Dulux

Dulux colours in this space: Burnished Bark, Moo Half, Lime Fizz

Resource Contribution: Caliper Journal (Simone Chait, Victoria Marquez Musso and Jack Murray) and Melbourne Art Library

Project Partner

Project Supporters

Resource Contributors