Seattle Public Library

I spent 4 hours in the Seattle Public Library that didn’t involve reading! It is a great building, every corner and every level has a different view. You never know what to expect when you turn a corner. The endless yellow escalator is outstanding, and the red administrative floors are breathtaking. Everything is red, the lights, the reflection, the shadows…

For more Seattle Public Library photos visit ArkitecTrue Photos.

It all started with a competition announcement. Twenty-nine major national, international and local firms sought the opportunity to design the new structure. Architects were asked to submit only ideas, not models, for the design of the new $165 million library. The surprise winner was Rem Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, in partnership with the Seattle firm of LMN Architects. The iconoclastic Dutch architect had no major buildings built in America when the Library Board selected him over two other finalists, but the board’s choice seemed insightful a year later when Koolhaas was awarded architecture’s highest international honor, the Pritzker Prize.

Instead of drawings and models, the winning team presented a concept book. In it, they wrote: “new libraries don’t reinvent or even modernize the traditional institution; they merely package it in a new way.” Koolhaas sees the new library as a custodian of the book, a showcase for new information, a place for thought, discussion and reflection – a dynamic presence.

His 11-floor, 362,987-square-foot library, a dazzling avant-garde symphony of glass and form, has many innovative features, including:

  • A “Books Spiral” that displays the entire non-fiction collection in a continuous run;
  • A towering “living room” along Fifth Avenue that reaches 50 feet in height;
  • A distinctive diamond-shaped exterior skin of glass and steel.

The new Central Library’s unorthodox shape, unlike any other building in Seattle, is the result of its use of five platform areas to reflect different aspects of the library’s program; its form indeed follows its function. It includes a 275-seat auditorium and parking for 143 vehicles.

The floating effect seen outside has been achieved inside by leaving the platforms unsupported at the corners. “The goal of the architects,” says Jay Taylor, of the structural engineering firm Magnusson Klemencic Associates, “was to minimize the number of columns along the edges to make the platforms appear floating.” With columns pulled back from the corners, the cantilevering provides structural efficiency, reducing load stresses along the middle of deep box trusses that run around the perimeter of each platform.

The all-glass walls of the library posed the challenge of protecting the books and visitors from direct sunlight. Expanded-aluminum mesh sandwiched between plates of insulated glass deflects 90 percent of direct sunlight while retaining clear views. Areas of the building that are not exposed to direct sun did not need the mesh and were left clear.

The new Central Library opened May 23, 2004, and immediately prompted international interest.

Leave a Reply