Wednesday, January 13, 2010

seattle central library

Fifth Avenue Entrance

If you're not a fan of the new Silver Spring Library (at left), Civic Building, or any other of the modern buildings going up in Downtown Silver Spring, you might be thankful we're not in Seattle. It's in the Emerald City where Dutch starchitect Rem Koolhaas - whose previous work includes everything from public toilets to porno scripts - designed an ambitious, modern downtown library that opened in 2004.

The New York Times called it a "blazing chandelier to swing your dreams upon," while the Project for Public Spaces condemned it as a "self-contained architectural object that adds little to public life around it." Naming it his "Eyesore of the Month" in June 2004, writer James Howard Kunstler asked, "What the fuck is it?"

Fourth Avenue Entrance

The library fills an entire city block, making it a major presence in Downtown Seattle. Even so, it's pretty unwelcoming at street level. Where's the door, you ask? Those bikes aren't going to tell you, though the adjacent building might have something to say about being cast into darkness most of the day.

Living Room And Teen Stacks

Inside, you go up to the third floor for what Koolhaas called the "Living Room," a space for people to congregate or just chill out. There's a cafe, a gift shop, and a bunch of benches that make better sculptures than seating. Overall, it's a nice space to be in, filled with sunlight. It's hard not to notice all of the homeless people who congregate here.

Book Spiral

If you're looking for a book, you'll have to head up into the Books Spiral, a multi-story ramp lined with stacks in order of the Dewey Decimal System. This is an idea that would've wowed my professors in architecture school. In real life, it's a really big and tedious ramp.

Looking Down From Observation Deck

If you make it to the top of the Books Spiral, you'll be rewarded with a sort of observation deck cantilevered ten stories above Downtown Seattle. It's hard to avoid looking outside while in this building, but looking down on the city below is a great way to induce vertigo.

Now, don't you feel better about our library? If not, check out these photos of the new Silver Spring Library, which will start construction next year.


Clancy said...

Although I've lived in SS for 10 years now, I consider Seattle my "home," so forgive me for being a little defensive about the library. While it obviously has its critics, I noticed that it also made many of the decade top ten buildings lists last December.

The central library is fantastic and a wonderful public space. Not all libraries should go the homey and inviting route that would make them seem more like a Borders or Starbucks rather than what amounts to an extremely large storage facility for books.

As for finding the entrance, given the slope of the streets and layout, the main entrance on Fourth and Madison should have been pretty obvious. When I did research there about four years ago, I found it to be very easy to use, largely because everything was on that "ramp" (or, rather, just off of it). I found that particular aspect of the design to be very innovative and refreshing.

Thomas Hardman said...

Sorry to go off topic.

Due to the Haitian crisis, Dan, please consider posting this as a main article.

How to Report

1. By sending a message to 447624802524
2. By sending an email to
3. By sending a tweet with the hashtag/s #haiti or #haitiquake
4. By filling a form at the website

For now this might not be all that helpful. But within the next 24 hours or so, relief efforts should have restored some cellular/txting and internet capability to rescue and relief centers in the affected areas.

Unknown said...

the inside is incredible. even though they came up with a completely new glazing system instead of an off the shelf, the outside looks like a BAD 80's convention center

Thomas Hardman said...


To have any concern other than delivering your best effort to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti is the clear sign of a sociopath.

You people need to have no other use of your educations than to assist the millions in the disaster area.

Art appreciation of Seattle's library in this catastrophe aftermath doesn't reflect well on anyone's perception of your psychology.

Every last Urban Planner / Architect / Civil Engineer needs to use every last brain cell on how to deliver humanitarian aid to Haiti.

Any other use of your talents is outrageous and flat out despicable.

Thayer-D said...

Our Silver Spring Library will be a wanna-be Seattle library. Preening, self-absorbed, and ugly as hell. Another monument to architects indifference to the public's interests. Koolhouse should have stuck to writting porno scripts.