Seattle Public Library

Red Hallway

During my Spring Break, I traveled to the frigid Northlands of Seattle, Washington and headed over to the Seattle Public Library. I have often walked by the Library on my way to the Washington Convention Center during Penny Arcade‘s annual video game festival PAX, but have never stopped to take the time and tour the interior spaces…until now. 

The long and short of it: this is not the library you grandma grew up in. The digital world has affected every space within this building in a very cool way. The main circulation is coupled with the book spiral, giving visitors a game of hide and reveal as they travel up the Dewey Decimal system. Along the way up or down, depending on if you used the elevators or not, the corridors are painted bright neon colors giving the interior spaces a futuristic gloss. Simply put: the library is an example of architectural pornography.

While touring the building, I was surprised how interconnected I felt with the floors below and above me but less so with the immediate street. Most libraries I have experienced do not retain an iconic presence throughout the building especially when you are shuffling through rows upon rows of musty smelling shelves. Koolhaas’s design was always performing.

But I am still not 100% sold on the design.

One of the biggest critiques of the design is the separation of the “first floor” from the street. Critics argue that the design does not engage pedestrians or respect the elements of the surrounding streetscape therefore missing the opportunity to create a vibrant urban place.This particular design decision is something that I have been struggling with lately in my own design discussions and whether or not it really detracts from the urban life of a city block. One could argue that the Seattle Public Library is a new type of urban cloister where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the street, plug in your laptop or ipod, and still be visually connected/stimulated by the Seattle skyline. After all, we are a heavy visual culture and was the most prevalent activity the users of the library were doing when I was there.

Stairway to HeavenAlong the Book SpiralBookselves

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