Sunday, November 28, 2004

Seattle Public Library - Rem Koolhas.

Seattle Public Library. Designed by renowned architect Rem Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), and Seattle-based LMN Architects, the new 363,000-square-foot Seattle Public Library is offically open to the public.

The $165 million library was designed to reflect both the building's content and how it will be used. The new structure, on the site where Seattle's first permanent public library was built in 1906, has space for 1.4 million books -- a half-million more than its predecessor -- and is equipped with more than 400 computers.

The new library will house the library's main collection of books, government publications, periodicals, audio visual materials and the technology to access and distribute information from the physical collection online.

The building is divided into horizontal layers, each varying in size and shape. Each of these levels has its own function, including "the Living Room," featuring long couches and a coffee bar; "the Reading Room," a more traditional setting; and the "Teen Center." A "Mixing Chamber" has a reference center that includes 132 public computers, wireless hot spots for people to research on their own laptops, and a conference room.

Children will have a 15,000-square-foot area for their books, six times larger than in the old library. There is also a 275-seat auditorium which can be expanded by 150 seats, connecting the two main entries, while a soaring atrium lobby extends along the southern half of the building. The building features five main "platforms," or levels, that are pushed and pulled out, creating an angular effect. Appearing as if it has just been through an earthquake one layer stacked and shifted upon the next. Between these platforms are floating layers, which provide the libraries public spaces. The asymmetric form(s) create not only a work of art, but are sure to serve as a magnet that will spark excitement for both the library and the surrounding context. Koolhaas stated "it would be a pity to be as boring as the context." The building appears transparent, clad in two layers of glass -- between which are steel tubes that join together to form a lattice of diamond shapes.

The steel-tubed skin of the new library, Koolhaas said, "not only provides the main structural support for the building but also modulates light and, with built-in coolers and filters, controls internal air temperature." He noted the building is "pre-quaked," with its irregular shape helping to counteract the movement of an earthquake. With an array of brilliant yellow escalators, colorful floor and wall treatments, waist-high signage, cavernous hallways, the library assist in providing a fun filled learning experience.

Instead of being a boring book warehouse this library demands investigation. Circulation through the library includes a continuous square ramp winding upward through four levels of the entire non-fiction collection. Above the stacks on the tenth floor a reading room with slanted glass walls provides a unique perspective on the Seattle skyline.