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Published: Monday, July 31, 2006

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Seattle Central Library

"The library represents, maybe with the prison, the last of the uncontested moral universes," explains OMA of their refreshingly original approach to its design, creating a building that whilst genetically modifying the typical high rise, emerges both contextual and iconic.

By: OMA

Architecture-Page | Seattle Central Library by OMA
Two-thirds of the Central Library's patrons are expected to enter the library from the main entrance at Fourth Avenue and Madison Street

Project Details

  • Project Name: Seattle Central Library
  • Client: The Seattle Public Library
  • Status: Commission 1999, Completed May 23, 2004
  • Site: City block at 1000 Fourth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104 USA
  • Architect: OMA|LMN - A Joint Venture
  • Partners-in-Charge: OMA: Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Ramus
  • LMN: John Nesholm, Directors: Robert Zimmer and Sam Miller
  • Engineer: Arup / Magnusson Klemencic Associates
  • Acoustics: Michael Yantis Associates
  • Artists: Ann Hamilton, Gary Hill, Tony Oursler
  • Environmental Graphics: Bruce Mau Design
  • Facades: Dewhurst Macfarlane & Partners
  • Facade Pre-construction Services: Seele GmbH
  • Lighting: Kugler Tillotson Associates

Program

  • Central Library 38.300 m2
    • Headquarters 33.700 m2
    • Other elements: Reading Room, Book Spiral, Mixing Chamber, Meeting Platform, Living Room, Staff Floor, Children's Collection And Auditorium
  • Parking Space 4.600 m2

Awards

  • American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor Award for Architecture; AIA/ALA Library Buildings of Excellence Awards

Architecture-Page | Seattle Central Library by OMA
The northeast corner of the Central Library at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Spring Street. The partially covered Joshua Green Foundation Arcade leads to the Fifth Avenue entrance.

The Building

"The essence of the Public is that it is free. Our ambition is to redefine the library as an institution no longer exclusively dedicated to the book, but as an information store where all potent forms of media-new and old-are presented equally and legibly. In an age where information can be accessed anywhere, it is the simultaneity of all media and (more importantly) the curatorship of their contents that will make the library vital," says OMA, highlighting the driving force behind their award winning design for the Seattle Central Library.

While flexibility in the library is conventionally translated into the creation of generic floors without a segregation of programs, the Seattle Central Library cultivates a far more refined approach by organizing itself into spatial compartments, each dedicated to, and equipped for, specific duties. Tailored flexibility remains possible within each compartment without the threat of one section hindering the others. This was achieved by the "combing" and consolidation of the library's programs and media, thereafter identifying programmatic clusters-five of stability, and four of instability.

Architecture-Page | Seattle Central Library by OMA
Left: The partially covered Joshua Green Foundation Arcade leads to the Fifth Avenue entrance, Right: The Fifth Avenue entrance to the Central Library

Each platform is thus created as one cluster that is architecturally defined and equipped for maximum, dedicated performance. Because each platform is designed for a unique purpose, their size, flexibility, circulation, palette, structure, and MEP vary. The spaces in between the platforms function as trading floors where librarians inform and stimulate and where the interface between the different platforms is organized i.e. spaces for work, interaction, and play.

Seattle Central Library- Programmatic section [opens in a popup window - 18 KB image]

Architecture-Page | Seattle Central Library by OMA
Left: A close-up of the northeast corner of the Central Library, looking west down Spring Street, Right: General view of the Living Room.

The Programmatic Clusters

The 'Norcliffe Foundation Living Room' off the Fifth Avenue entrance includes public computers and comfortable seating where patrons can relax and read. Carpets are intensely colored patterns of life-like plants that replicate the plantings outside the Fifth Avenue entrance. The escalator here leads to the Fourth Avenue entrance.

Airy hallways cross the building on the south side of the Library's dramatic 'Atrium'. The atrium rises from Level 3 to Level 11, where it is topped with glass, attributing to the library it's unique architectural language. The environment created within is responsive to variations in natural lighting through the day, and is maintained conducive to reading and related activities.

Architecture-Page | Seattle Central Library by OMA
The fluid and vivacious interiors of the Meeting Level

The bright red 'Meeting Level' includes six differently shaped meeting rooms. The hallway floors, walls and ceilings are all various shades of red. But inside each meeting room the colors are neutral, sedate and conducive to quiet time and learning. The stairs lead to the Charles Simonyi Mixing Chamber on Level 5, where patrons can go for help with general questions or in-depth research. This floor also has the largest configuration of technology in one spot - 132 computers - and is the entry to the Books Spiral.

The 'Mixing Chamber' is an area of maximum librarian-patron interaction; a trading floor for information orchestrated to fulfill an essential (now neglected) need for expert interdisciplinary help. The Mixing Chamber consolidates the library's cumulative human and technological intelligence and the visitor here is surrounded by a gamut of information sources.

Architecture-Page | Seattle Central Library by OMA
Left: The innovative, four-level Books Spiral Right: The grand staircase begins at Books Spiral 6 and patrons can use it to move throughout the four-level Books Spiral and climb to the Reading Room on Level 10.

Escalators, elevators and stairs are a bright, almost fluorescent green-yellow. In the Central Library, the creative color helps direct patrons to ways to get from level to level.

The 'Book Spiral' implies a reclamation of the much-compromised Dewey Decimal System. By arranging the collection in a continuous ribbon-running from "000" to "999" -- the subjects form a coexistence that approaches the organic; each evolves relative to the others, occupying more or less space on the ribbon, but never forcing a rupture. It liberates the librarians from the burden of managing ever-increasing material. The spiral is realized as a series of flat tiers, connected by gentle ramps. It is an architectural organization that allows all patrons to easily access the collection. The book holding capacity of the library presently stands at 1.4 million books.

Architecture-Page | Seattle Central Library by OMA
Conceptual artist Ann Hamilton designed the floor for this area of the Fourth Avenue level.

Internationally recognized conceptual artist Ann Hamilton designed the floor for this area of the Fourth Avenue level, which leads into the Literacy/ESL/World Languages collection. The floor includes 556 lines of text, in reverse, in 11 languages and alphabets, and consists of the first sentences of books found in the collection.

Architecture-Page | Seattle Central Library by OMA
View of the Children's Center

The 'Faye G. Allen Children's Center' is 15,000 square feet, compared to 2,000 square feet in the old building. The furniture includes "Poufs" - fun, round, foam-filled seats. The triangular Anne Marie Gault Story Hour Room here is green with pinpoint lights that shine from the ceiling like stars.

The 'Betty Jane Narver Reading Room' on level 10 seats 400 and has vignette views of Elliott bay. The highest point of its ceiling reaches 40 feet.

Credits

  • Text: Courtesy, the architect
  • Photos by Fred Housel, courtesy of The Seattle Public Library
  • Compiled and edited by Varun M. Ajani

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