Thursday, Feb 15, 2024

Spring 2024 Sciame Lecture Series: David Serlin

Who Are Libraries For? Some Thoughts on Disability, Design, and Public Architecture


Thursday, Feb 15, 2024

5:30 pm - 7:00 pm

Sciame Auditorium (Room 107)
141 Convent Avenue
New York, NY 10031

David Serlin headshot

This lecture will be in person and is part of the Spring 2024 Sciame Lecture Series, titled "Access and Beyond: Architecture and Disability."

David Serlin (he/him/his) is a Professor of Communication at UC San Diego, where he also teaches in the programs in Science Studies, Critical Gender Studies, and the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Cognitive Science. He is the author or editor of numerous books including Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America (University of Chicago Press, 2004), Keywords in Disability Studies (co-editor; NYU Press, 2015), and Window Shopping with Helen Keller: Architecture and Disability in Modern Culture (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming Fall 2024). In 2020 he was awarded the Rome Prize in Architecture from the American Academy in Rome.

"Who Are Libraries For? Some Thoughts on Disability, Design, and Public Architecture": Contemporary conversations about libraries as distinct forms of public space have largely focused on questions of access; the recent lawsuit against the Hunters Point Public Library in Queens (Steven Holl & Associates, 2019) demonstrates how public needs remain poorly addressed even more than three decades years after the passage of the ADA (1990). The failure to include the experiences of a diverse community of library patrons is not unique to Hunters Point. But it does highlight an important distinction between those who pursue compliant design, which hews to fixed standards mandated by law, and those who pursue what we might call crip design, which centers the experiences of people with disabilities in the design process beyond meeting fixed standards. In this talk, I join a chorus of advocates for crip design who seek to move beyond the binary of compliance/noncompliance. Using historical case studies as well as contemporary projects, I look at the work of architects and designers who have built public libraries that are inspired by disability – and, in particular, multisensory and multimodal experiences of space – rather than treating disability as an impediment to creativity. I argue that libraries can be opportunities to rethink the civic role of our vital public institutions through reimagining who, and not what, they are for.

Suggested Reading: “Banking on Postmodernism: Saving Stanley Tigerman’s Illinois Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (1978),” Future Anterior 16:1 (Summer 2019), 87-108.

"Access and Beyond: Architecture and Disability" answers the call for disability justice in our time. Architects, designers, and scholars, inspired by critical disability studies, make up the distinguished roster of speakers who situate disability, ability, and access in pointed, specific critiques of design, culture, and power. This series invites practitioners to probe assumptions embedded in universal design, to center belonging in design practice, to critique technology in relation to inclusion, and to apprehend the rich contribution of difference in the sensorial experiences of places.

All lectures are free, open to the public, and held in the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture Sciame Auditorium. Live captioning and ASL interpretation will be available upon request. For access requests or questions, please contact

See for current requirements for in-person visitors.

This lecture series is made possible by the Spitzer Architecture Fund and the generous support of Frank Sciame ’74, CEO of Sciame Construction.

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