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May 26, 2004: Seattle's New Central Library

Greetings from downtown Seattle's brand new Central Library, where I can post a quick blog entry courtesy of the free (well, taxpayer-funded) WiFi. You've probably heard a bit about the Rem Koolhaas-designed building, which opened just last Sunday. If not, you can read about in a recent New Yorker article.

I don't pretend to know anything about architecture, and I've never worked in a public library. But I do find this building fascinating. It's an interesting mix of utilitarian and whimsical. You'll encounter great finding aids, like call numbers prominently displayed on the floor next to each row of shelves. And yet I don't believe I could ever learn how the layout of this delightful mess works. Stairs sneak under escalators, escalators bypass floors, floors surprisingly beget other floors. Eleven stories of funky furniture, flooring, fixtures, and finishes.

exterior viewfindability on the floorfunky red stairsinterior view

These photos are from SPL's slide show

But what strikes me most is how social a place this is. Sure, many are here to enjoy an initial tour, but there are a wide variety of group-oriented seating areas. This is clearly a place to hang out and enjoy the view. What's missing is a café, though here it's quite possible that, despite hitting just about every floor, I just missed it.

Oh, and naturally, a few seats away from me there's a guy who's been stridently snoring for the past hour. Damn, I wish I had my camera with me so I could make him famous.

Anyway, definitely stop by next time you're in Seattle!

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Comment: Lou (May 29, 2004)

And for another take on SPL, read Keith Pleas' "Brutal Architecture": http://weblogs.asp.net/kpleas/archive/2004/04/27/121407.aspx

Thanks to Mike Crandall for forwarding it to me.

Comment: Edward Vielmetti (Jun 2, 2004)

Lou - here's another photo essay, this one from Glenn Fleishmann:

http://blog.glennf.com/mtarchives/002823.html

You brought home some of the rain!

Comment: Prentiss Riddle (Jun 3, 2004)

It sounds like Koolhaas did a Guggenheim for the library, noting that the Dewey Decimal System is linear and so built the stacks in a spiral. The New Yorker article made that sound like a boon for the navigability of the library, but your report makes it sound as though it is the opposite.

Funny that an aggressively forward-thinking architect like Koolhaas would base his work on Dewey when the last time I checked, library scientists scorned Dewey as hopelessly retro.

Also interesting that the article slams the early-90's Chicago Public Library when a contemporary review in the same magazine gushed over it.

Comment: Prentiss Riddle (Jun 3, 2004)

["It sounds it sounds it sounds..." When comments lack a preview feature, I *must* remember to do some previewing of my own in a text editor before clicking Submit!]

Comment: Lou (Jun 3, 2004)

Thanks guys.

One of the biggest problems I saw at SPL was a preponderance of hand-lettered signs taped on walls and doors (e.g., "Staff only"), and individuals posted around the place telling patrons not to go here or there. Lots of these teensy bugs will certainly be worked out before too long. But some--like the elevators being the only practical way down after 5pm--will surely be chronic. And ah, those elevators: I had to pull a Manhattan trick just to get out of the building, boarding an "up" elevator, planting my ass in the corner, and then riding it down. Hopping a downward elevator was nearly impossible.

Comment: Prentiss Riddle (Jun 7, 2004)

Has anyone heard why the SPL still has a *card* catalog?! From Glenn Fleishmann's photo documentation:

http://pix.glennf.com/photos/040529_seattle_library/source/img_1745.html

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