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?"
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.
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.
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.
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.