Ramblings from the Warrior's Den
Thursday, June 03, 2004
The New Seattle Library

Having read a number of accounts of the new library in Seattle, , I decided today to take a trip into downtown and check it out. To be honest, I am not a big supporter of public arts funding (in fact, I could be said not to support it much beyond what gets put up on the post office wall) but from what I've seen of it so far (Here is a far better pictorial than I could have done), I thought that this would be at least worth a look.

When you walk into one of the entrances, the first thing you notice is the space. the overall structure of the building provides some very interesting views, and most notably in the "Living Room" area near the 5th street entrance where the fiction collection is located the sense of space is incredible, even more so when you find yourself looking down on it from five stories above. Another thing you notice quickly is that the metal grid material used for railings throughout the building becomes surprisingly unobtrusive when viewed from a distance at a direct angle, which led me to wonder about it's sturdiness. I had to try pushing on a section a bit first to make sure I wasn't going to fall to my doom if I leaned on it.

For the open, airy spaces, tre seemed to be some odd areas too. If you take the stairs from the Fifth Street entrance to the Mixing Chamber area, you pass through a rather odd space colored entirely in a deep shade of red. The effect is rather disorienting should you wander around it some. The mixing chamber itself (a focal point of the library, and the area where most of the computers can be found) also seems to be a bit too dark for my liking. Granted, if you're trying to use a computer you don't want the glare of sunlight in your face, but I think they could have done better than to paint everything black in this area. Since I bring the subject up, the overall color scheme seems a little bit weird. The yellowish-green that they use in large amounts (most notably in the escalators) seems to have been borrowed straight from a low-budget 70's sci-fi flick, and the minty green shade used for everything (and I mean everything) in the restrooms also seems particularly harsh (although from what I've read, this seems to be the intent, to discourage loitering.)

The one area in particular that seems to stick out like a sore thumb (in my opinion) is the much vaunted "spiral" area in which the nonfiction and reference collections are kept. The concept is certainly interesting (to start at the top and work your way downward through the Dewey Decimal System in a spiral that goes down fiur floors) but the implementation leaves something to be desired. The shelves are designed in a way that is supposed to let as much light through as possible, yet the overall effect of the spiral is uncharacteristically austere. For the soaring grandeur of some of the large public spaces, the Spiral seems for some reason sterile, almost as though the books are being stored in a bunker. The major reason for this, in my opinion, is the exposed concrete floor. I realize the emphasis on exposed building materials elsewhere in the structure (nost notably the concrete service cores) but it would really do a lot for the space to throw in some carpet. The one thing I did find interesting about the Spiral was the way that they built it to be modular. the rubber tiles that show your current position in the Dewey Decimal System appear to be readily replaced, and as books are added, the placeholders can be moved accordingly.

Some of the other spaces, such as the children's library and the foreign language section, seem to fare much better. The children's library provides a bright, warm and far more inviting space than the Spiral. The floor in the foreign language section is particulrly interesting, made of wood planks embossed with phrases in various languages (I wasn't able to find anything I could translate, so I don't know exactly what it's saying.) As you wander the nooks and crannies, it seems you'll occasionally run into a space that borders on inexplicable, such as the chrome-walled area directly behind the escalators on the fourth street entrance and the aforementioned "Red Zone" on the way up to the Mixing Chamber.

Overall, my verdict is somewhat mixed, but I have definitely seen worse.

Edit: 6/4/04: More pictures here.

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