Seattle Central Library

1000 4th Ave Seattle

Seattle Architecture/Seattle Central Library
VAMONDE Seattle
Written By VAMONDE Seattle

Seattle Public Library: Central Library

The current Seattle Central Library building has eleven stories of glass and steel mesh and was completed in 2004 on the site of two previous library buildings downtown. In its first year, it attracted over 8,000 visitors a day, doubling the attendance of the old building. It was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and American architect Joshua Prince-Ramus in collaboration with Seattle-based LMN Architects. Created with both growth and new technology in mind, it offers space for 1.45 million books and over 300 computers for community use. As Koolhas’s firm OMA explains on their website:

“At a moment when libraries are perceived to be under threat from a shrinking public realm on one side and digitization on the other, the Seattle Central Library creates a civic space for the circulation of knowledge in all media, and an innovative organizing system for an ever-growing physical collection – the Books Spiral … a continuous ramp of shelving forming a co-existence between categories that approaches the organic.” — Source: OMA website

To design the building’s unusual shape, the architects began by closely examining the library’s many programs and grouping them into “clusters”. The building is made up of five “platforms” corresponding to five “stable clusters” (programs that need a static space) and four “in-between planes,” based on the library’s “unstable clusters” (those that require ever-changing space). One of those unstable clusters is the “Mixing Chamber,” which the firm describes as “an area of maximum librarian-patron interaction – a trading floor for information orchestrated to fulfill an essential (though often neglected) need for expert interdisciplinary help.”

The building is also innovative in its use of materials, as Seattle Times architecture writer Rosemarie Buchanan observed:

“Rip-stop nylon, a parachute-like material, lines one of its ceilings. The metal ‘fishnet’ pattern on the exterior, engineered by the structural firm Arup Partners, actually supports the building against lateral forces (such as those caused by earthquakes). That's in contrast to most large buildings, which internalize most of their support in central cores.”

Rem Koolhaas is an architect and architecture professor who made his name designing performing arts venues and has become known for questioning the philosophies underlying standard modern buildings such as skyscrapers and offices. While most of his buildings are in Europe or Asia, you can see his Guggenhiem Heritage Museum in Las Vegas, his Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas, and stores he designed for Prada in New York and Los Angeles. When the Seattle Public Library chose him for this project, they cited his "intellectual approach to the library of the future."

Joshua Prince-Ramus is principal of the firm REX based in New York. His buildings include Five Manhattan West in New York and the Much Museum is Oslo, Norway.

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Cover photo: brewbooks CC BY-SA 2.0.

Seattle Architecture

Seattle Central Library

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