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A sense of community in the middle of a loud and busy city - Seattle’s Public Library

Captain Julie, visited Seattle’s public library where literature and architecture come together in one place!

Published by Julie on 20/03/2017

I’ll admit it: I don’t really spend much time in libraries. In fact, prior to my recent first visit to the Seattle Public Library, I couldn’t think of my last library experience since I was a teenager, borrowing DVDs and books about vampires.

In my memory, libraries are stuffy, smelling of dust and always slightly too warm with unpleasant lighting and even more unpleasant librarians. It’s 2017. Our lives move fast and if we can’t get to something on our phones right away, we lose interest. This is probably where my lack of library visits lies; there’s always a podcast to be listening to, a new Instagrammable restaurant to try out, or a TV show to binge on Netflix.

It’s as if architects Rem Koolhaas (of the Netherlands) and Joshua Ramus (a native Seattle-ite) understood that this would be the common affliction of 2017 Seattle dwellers, back in 2004 when the library was re-opened to the public. The building begs for attention, not with desperation, but with the coolness of a new piece of technology. It’s not exclusively dedicated to the books, but instead has adapted to the multi-media flexibility that today’s visitors expect, delivering a dose of surrealism and Apple store-esque airiness

A City Made By People Seattle Public Library

Photo credit: Ming-yen Hsu

A City Made By People Seattle Public LibraryPhoto credit: Ming-yen Hsu

A City Made By People Seattle Public Library

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk

A City Made By People Seattle Public Library

Redefining what it means to be a Downtown high-rise, the building is time-sensitive, casting intense new light forms depending on where the sun is, also avoiding the vast flatness that often comes with libraries. Books are sorted based on a spiral formation, a continuous ribbon of the Dewey Decimal System, physically experienced as fluid, movement from one floor (or, “platform”) to the next. Each platform is designed for maximized function, dedicated to a unique purpose, whether that’s a hub for librarians to inform guests, silent halls of individuals with their noses in books, or spaces for work, play, and socializing. 

A City Made By People Seattle Public Library

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk

A City Made By People Seattle Public Library

Photo Credit: Sean Munson

Primarily made of concrete, steel, and glass, the iconic diagonal grid system of the building is made to withstand forces like wind or earthquakes (I know where I’m going when “The Big One” hits…). It looks crazy and unplanned yet stunning and genius at the same time. The top-floor reading room is ethereal; light, airy, and exactly the kind of place I’d love to spend a relaxed Saturday afternoon. On the other end of things, there’s a section of recording studios and classrooms that feel straight out of a sci-fi or horror film. On a particularly quiet Saturday, I found myself peering around latex-esque red walls wondering if I was actually alone. 

A City Made By People Seattle Public Library

A City Made By People Seattle Public Library

A City Made By People Seattle Public Library

I’m guilty of perpetuating the stereotype of young people not going to libraries anymore, in the way that they used to. But it is just a stereotype: visiting the Seattle Public Library gave me more of a sense of community than I get in most places. Families, groups of teenagers, people doing business, tourists, and other onlookers like myself were all present, enjoying an atmosphere that feels personal and quiet, even smack in the middle of a loud, busy city.

A City Made By People Seattle Public Library

Words by captain Julie

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