Introduction to the Seattle Central Library, Seattle, Washington

Shannon Mattern quotes Herbert Muschamp, former architecture critic of the New York Times, who raves about this building saying, "In more than 30 years of writing about architecture, this is the most exciting new building it has been my honor to review" (78). The building has received many awards and seems in itself to signify that it is the city's most significant public building. As a library, it is clearly different from what we have come to expect. Traditional libraries like the New York Public Library or the Boston Public Library are engraved on the public consciousness. Rem Koolhaas of OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) reinvented the traditional institution and designed a library for the 21st century. After all, the age of the book, if not disappearing, is supplemented by new types of information sources. And this building announces its modernity.

Initially 29 architects applied for this international competition, which was reduced to a final five: a local Portland firm, Steven Holl (who designed the innovative St. Ignatius Chapel on the Seattle University campus), Koolhaas, Cesar Pelli, and Sir Norman Foster--although the last two dropped out at the late stage. The Gates Foundation donated 20 million toward the cost. Although some greeted Koolhaas' initial designs with skepticism, the library is a very popular spot today, patronized by the local clientele and visited by gawking tourists.

Although it doesn't look like the traditional library, and although it doesn't have a northwestern look (whatever that means!), it was designed for Seattle's rainy climate. Koolhaas said it was a building designed "for drizzle, for mist, for greyness" (quoted in Mattern 72) and it takes advantage of its site--cramped though it is. It provides fantastic views of Elliott Bay and Mount Rainier. And it seems to be logical, functional, and user-friendly, as I hope the following pages and pictures illustrate.

Index to Images of the Seattle Central Library

(108 images; all of the images were photographed in March, 2008)



Views of the north and west sides


18 images

Views of the south and east sides


12 images

Views of the "living room"


16 images

Additional views of the "living room"


12 images

Views of the meeting floor


10 images

Views of the mixing room, atrium, and book spiral


17 images

Views of the reading room and upper floor


17 images

Views of the Tsutakawa fountain, "Fountain of Wisdom"


6 images


Works Cited or Consulted:

Michael Kubo and Ramon Prat. Seattle Public Library OMA/LMN. Barcelona: Actar, 2005.
Shannon Mattern. The New Downtown Library. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2007.




Click here to return to index of art historical sites.

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Click here to return to chronological index.


Click here to see the home page of Bluffton College.


© 2008 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. (I would appreciate being told if you find them useful.) They are not available for commercial purposes without my explicit permission.