Seattle Public Library


Philippe Ruault

The Seattle Public Library houses the library’s main collection of books, periodicals, audiovisual materials and the technology to access and distribute information from the physical collection online.

Af Kirsten Kiser

The building is divided into eight horizontal layers, each varying in size to fit its function. A structural steel-and-glass skin unifies the multifaceted form and defines the public spaces in between.

The stacks, arranged along a continuous spiral ramp contained within a four-story slab, reinforce a sense of a world organized with machine-like precision.
— Nicolai Ouroussoff

Situated on a sloping site between 4th and 5th Streets, the new library has entrances on both street levels.

The entrance level on 4th Street, one of Seattle’s main thoroughfares, houses the Children’s Library and foreign-language resources.

Rows of escalators lead to the 5th Street “Living Room” lobby located under a 50-foot-high sloping glass wall. The lobby can also be reached directly from a covered walkway than runs the length of the 5th Avenue facade.

The carpeted “Living Room” contains the fiction stacks while non-fiction is located on the “Dewey Ramp”, a four-story ramp that allows people to browse through books in a continuous sequence. The Reading Room on the top floor has views of Puget Sound and the surrounding mountains.

Koolhaas sees the new library as a custodian of the book, a showcase for new information, a place for thought, discussion and reflection – a dynamic presence. The fact that the contents of a whole library can be stored on a single chip or the fact that a single library can now store the digital content of all libraries, together represent a potential rethinking of the library: new forms of storage enable the space dedicated to real books to be contained; new forms of reading enhance the aura of the real book.

Our first operation has been the “combining” and consolidation of the apparently ungovernable proliferation of programs and media. By combining like with like, we have identified five platforms, each a programmatic cluster that is architecturally defined and equipped for maximum, dedicated performance. Because each platform is designed for a unique purpose, they are different in size, density, opacity.
The in-between spaces are like trading floors where librarians inform and stimulate, where the interface between the different platforms is organized – spaces for work, interaction, and play. (And reading).