Part 6 of IGS Nostalgia takes a look at the Seattle Central Library. A collaboration between OMA in Rotterdam and LMN Architects in Seattle, the building’s postmodern, angular structure is made with a mirrored glass and steel skin. About half of the panes are composed of three layers—aluminum mesh sandwiched by glass—to shield patrons from sunlight.
The Seattle Central Library redefines 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 content that will make the library vital.
Flexibility in contemporary libraries is conceived as the creation of generic floors on which almost any activity can occur. Programs are not separated, rooms or individual spaces not given unique characters. In practice, this means that bookcases define generous (though nondescript) reading areas on opening day, but, through the collection’s relentless expansion, inevitably come to encroach on the public space. Ultimately, in this form of flexibility, the library strangles the very attractions that differentiate it from other information resources.
Instead of its current ambiguous flexibility, the library could cultivate a more refined approach by organizing itself into spatial compartments, each dedicated to, and equipped for, specific duties. Tailored flexibility remains possible within each compartment, but without the threat of one section hindering the others.
Our first operation was to “comb” and consolidate the library’s apparently ungovernable proliferation of programs and media. By combining like with like, we identified programmatic clusters: five of stability and four of instability.
Each platform is a programmatic 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, where the interface between the different platforms is organized—spaces for work, interaction, and play.
By genetically modifying the superposition of floors in the typical American high rise, a building emerges that is at the same time sensitive (the geometry provides shade or unusual quantities of daylight where desirable), contextual (each side reacts differently to specific urban conditions or desired views), iconic.
The problem of traditional library organization is flatness. Departments are organized according to floor plans. Each floor is discreet; the unpredictable fits of growth and contraction in certain sections are, theoretically, contained within a single floor.
From the Structural Design Team Arup…
The design team’s challenges included maximising public space without the use of visually impairing pillars, strengthening the external structure for seismic resistance and support, and doing both in a sustainable manner. For the exterior, designers developed a diagonal grid system of insulated glass on a steel structure that provides great stiffness to resist lateral forces. Approximately half of the panes are triple-layered glass with a metal mesh sandwiched between two outer glass layers. The mesh reduces both heat and glare.
The library was designed to out perform Seattle’s energy code by 10%. To accomplish this, Arup used computer modelling and CFD analysis to investigate energy-efficient building systems. Among its additional sustainable features are water-efficient mechanical systems, including irrigation via a rainwater collection tank, environmentally-minded ventilation and fire suppression systems and extensive use of recycled material for construction. The library received a Silver rating from the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) programme.
Architects: OMA, LMN
Location: Seattle, WA, United States
Area: 38300.0 sqm
Project Year: 2004
Photographs: Philippe Ruault
Manufacturers: Mechanical Systems, Canron Western Construction, Bomel Construction Company, Glazing Systems, Miscellaneous Iron & Ornamental Metal, Electrical Systems, Metal Framing and Drywall, The Erection Company
Key Personnel: Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus (Partner-in-Charge), with Mark von Hof-Zogrotzki, Natasha Sandmeier, Meghan Corwin, Bjarke Ingels, Carol Patterson
Consultants: Arup, Bruce Mau Design, Davis Langdon, Dewhurst Macfarlane, Front, HKA, Hoffman Construction, Inside/Oustide, Jones & Jones, Kugler Tillotson, Magnusson Klemencic, McGuire, Michael Yantis, Pielow Fair, Quinze & Milan, Seele
Client: Seattle Public Library
Budget: US $169.2 M
Program: Central library for Seattle’s 28-branch library system, including 33,700 sqm of hq, reading room, book spiral, mixing chamber, meeting platform, living room, staff floor, children’s collection, and auditorium, and 4,600 sqm of parking.
Project Description via architects