Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Case Study No. 0594: Staff of Seattle Central Library

Seattle Central Public Library
A walk through Seattle's Central Public Library.
Designed by Rem Koolhaas.
Tags: Rem Koolhaas Seattle Central Public Library
Added: 4 years ago
From: hutchtv
Views: 7,409

[scene opens with exterior shots of the Seattle Central Library]
[cut to footage from inside the library, as librarians help patrons at the "Check-out Check-in" desk]
[cut to the cameraman taking the neon-yellow escalator to the upper floor, then cut to overhead footage of patrons and staff milling about]
[cut to the library's "internet cafe", as several patron are using computers while large video monitors overhead display information ("Other media in circulation today, 48 past hour", "Hells Bay, 10:05am", etc.)]
[cut to more footage from inside the library]
[cut to scenes from the assembly floor (also known as the "Red Room"]
[cut to the "Friendshop", as a female librarian is setting up the movable shelves]
[cut to more footage from inside the library]
[cut to one last exterior shot of the library, then the scene fades to black]



Funding for the new Seattle Central Library building, as well as other construction projects throughout the library system, was provided by a $196.4 million bond measure, called "Libraries for All," approved by Seattle voters on November 3, 1998. The project also received a $20 million donation from Bill Gates, of Microsoft.

Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus of the Dutch firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), working in conjunction with the Seattle firm LMN Architects, served as the building's principal architects. Ramus served as the partner in charge. Ironically, OMA was not one of the firms invited to compete for the project. Ramus, formerly a Seattle resident, found out from his mother one day in advance that the library board was inviting interested firms to attend a mandatory public meeting. He flew in, and OMA ended up winning the project.

Deborah Jacobs, Chief Librarian in the Seattle Public Library system, spearheaded the project from the library's perspective and served as the primary client voice, while Betty Jane Narver served as president of the Library Board.

The architects conceived the new Central Library building as a celebration of books, deciding after some research that despite the arrival of the 21st century and the "digital age," people still respond to books printed on paper. The architects also worked to make the library inviting to the public, rather than stuffy, which they discovered was the popular perception of libraries as a whole.

Although the library is an unusual shape from the outside, the architects' philosophy was to let the building's required functions dictate what it should look like, rather than imposing a structure making the functions conform to that.

For example, a major section of the building is the "Books Spiral," (designed to display the library's nonfiction collection without breaking up the Dewey Decimal System classification onto different floors or sections). The collection spirals up through four stories on a continuous series of shelves. This allows patrons to peruse the entire collection without using stairs or traveling to a different part of the building.

Other internal features include; the Microsoft Auditorium on the ground floor, the "Living Room" on the third floor (designed as a space for patrons to read), the Charles Simonyi Mixing Chamber (a version of a reference desk that provides interdisciplinary staff help for patrons who want to have questions answered or do research), and the Betty Jane Narver Reading Room on level 10 (with views of Elliott Bay).

New functions include automatic book sorting and conveyance, self-checkout for patrons, pervasive wireless communications among the library staff, and over 400 public computer terminals.

The opinion of architectural critics and the general public has been mixed; many like the new library but are less fond of its unusual design. Paul Goldberger, writing in The New Yorker, declared the Seattle Central Library "the most important new library to be built in a generation, and the most exhilarating." The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Washington awarded the Library its Platinum Award for innovation and engineering in its "structural solutions". The library also received a 2005 national AIA Honor Award for Architecture.

Recently Lawrence Cheek, the architecture critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, reconsidered his earlier praise. Cheek revisited the building in 2007 and found it "confusing, impersonal, uncomfortable, oppressive" on the whole, with various features "decidedly unpleasant," "relentlessly monotonous," "badly designed and cheesily detailed," "profoundly dreary and depressing," and "cheaply finished or dysfunctional," concluding that his earlier praise for the building was a "mistake."

The library was also roundly condemned by the Project for Public Spaces, which noted "if the library were a true 'community hub,' its most active areas would connect directly to the street, spinning off activity in every direction. That is where Koolhaas's library, sealed away from the sidewalks and streets around it, fails completely." It went on to note "critics have cast it as a masterpiece of public space design. As if blinded by the architect's knack for flash and publicity, they cannot locate, or perhaps refuse to acknowledge, the faults in his creation."

On the other hand, usage of the building is more than double the predicted volume. In the library's first year, 2.3 million individuals came to visit the library, roughly 30% were out-of-town. The library was also found to have generated $16 million in new economic activity for its surrounding area during this period.



Patrons flock to Central Library grand opening
Monday, May 24, 2004
By Monica Soto Ouchi

Kengo Skorick of Fremont woke up at 6 a.m. yesterday to worship. He'd waited two years for this day.

While others eased into church pews across Seattle, Skorick stood in line at the Seattle Central Library, reading a Japanese comic book for inspiration. He had dreamed of riding the shocking-yellow escalators. He had yearned to take in the sweeping views. "Sometimes events in your life can seem more significant when you treat them specially," said Skorick, 24, a budding architect who reveres Rem Koolhaas, the library's architect.

"Like climbing Mount Fuji to see the sunrise — if you go in the afternoon, you won't see it the same."

Skorick was third in line yesterday morning for the grand opening. The $165.5 million marriage of glass and steel saw 9,000 visitors ushered through its doors in just two hours. Attendance swelled to 24,013 by 5 p.m.

By 6:10 p.m. attendance had climbed above 26,000, and Seattle City Librarian Deborah Jacobs said the final tally was about 28,000 when the building closed its doors at 7 p.m.

"Pretty incredible," she said.

Jacobs initially anticipated an opening-day crowd of 20,000, but event planners had told her to expect more like 30,000.

If much of the advance fanfare had centered on the renowned Dutch architect and his bold design, yesterday was about the regular folks who'll be using the library.

Mayor Greg Nickels said as much in his opening remarks, noting that Seattle residents check out more books per capita than people in any other city. More important, at least to some: Patrons could bring drinks inside as long as they had a lid.

"Is that a Seattle library or what?" Nickels said. "Never again will Seattleites be parted from their lattes."

Ed Wirkala, 60, a devout library patron from Shoreline, checked out the first book. Perhaps a sign of the times, it was a book-on-tape.

Wirkala, who produces legal documents for a downtown Seattle law firm, borrowed the audio versions of "The Road to Wellville" by T. Coraghessan Boyle and "The Corrections" by Jonathan Franzen. (Eyestrain from the computer, he explained.)

Wirkala said he didn't intend to be first; he had to check out the books fast so he could get on to work. But his mother, Virginia Wirkala, 81, said it was no surprise.

"He kept me out of church to see this," she said.

Each floor carried buzz and anticipation. On one, a woman sat on a Nerf-like chair and flipped through a book about reproduction while others walked by with stacks of books in their arms. In another corner, others sat engrossed, watching a library video with topics such as, "What does the future hold for the card catalog?"

For each patron, yesterday's opening brought a different — but no less personal — experience.

Irina Ratner, 93, of Lake City Way, uses the library's mobile service to borrow books. She was named one of the winners of the grand opening's "I Love My Library" contest.

Leszek Chudzinski, a Slavic-languages librarian, said Ratner wrote in her essay that one cannot have a better friend than a book: "The old age is not much of a threat if you have with you a wise and loyal friend — a book."

Ratner's favorite author is Leo Tolstoy. Her favorite American author is John Steinbeck.

For her winning entry, Ratner was among the first allowed inside yesterday. "I'm happy," she said through an interpreter, hand over her heart.

Skorick, the third patron in line, was born and raised in Tokyo. He attended international schools and moved to the U.S. to earn an architecture degree from the University of Illinois.

When the Central Library was in its initial design phase, he interned at LMN Architects of Seattle, the joint architect for the project along with the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in the Netherlands.

During that time, Skorick would often go to the section handling the library and sneak peaks as the models were being built. After a year at LMN, he worked for six months at another Seattle architectural firm. He decided he needed more hands-on experience, so he got a construction job.

Yesterday, he traced his hand along the library's walls. He sketched drawings and jotted ideas in a black journal. He said he admires Koolhaas for not relying on precedent or formality.

"I like how they accented things that can be accented," he said, noting the carpet on the top floor. "It's kind of like wearing bright socks underneath a suit. That's how they maintain the grace. They're always at the edge, but they don't cross."

The new facility and the library staff handled the large crowds flawlessly, said librarian Jacobs.

"Its so easy for things to break with so much turnover over such a short period of time," she said. "Everything worked fine."

On the top floor, Skorick sat on a desk and took in the scenery. In the end, he surmised that being third in line wasn't as important as being here.

"I'd still enjoy the view," he said. "Isn't this what's important?"

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