New central library is not by the book
Light-filled structure is set to open May 23
Wednesday, February 4, 2004
By KATHY MULADY
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
Pedestrians cross Madison Street at Fourth Avenue, walking past Seattle's new library. The library, now eight months behind schedule and being built at a cost of $165 million, is a honeycomb of windows and high-ceilinged rooms.
In a view from inside Seattle's new central library, Gabe Reisdorff vacuums construction dust from the windows at the top level of the building.
From the outside, Seattle's new central library looks nothing like the soldier-straight buildings around it.
Just wait until you see the inside.
It is an education for anyone who thinks of libraries as cozy, softly lit structures with oak bookshelves, a few desks and a card catalog in the center of it all.
This is as far from Carnegie as you can get.
"I don't think people quite understand what this is. It is really quite spectacular," Sam Miller, principal with LMN Architects, told reporters and photographers who got a tour of the building yesterday.
Eleven floors are tied together by a honeycomb of steel-framed windows that flood the large high-ceilinged rooms with diffused light.
The children's area on the main floor is spiked with floor-to-ceiling leaning columns of concrete and hard floors of bamboo.
Everywhere, there is galvanized steel and aluminum, soaring spaces and swaths of light. A metal-framed conveyor belt on the main level carries books overhead like a silvery snake to another floor where they are mechanically sorted and returned to the shelves.
The main floor also has a 275-seat auditorium, as well as literacy and foreign language services.
There is even a self-checkout desk, just like at the grocery store.
Without books, bookcases, furniture, art or even finished floors yet, it is hard to tell what the final effect will be.
The library, now eight months behind schedule, has its grand opening set for May 23.
The Seattle Public Library and Hoffman Construction are still hashing out who must pay $8.4 million in extra costs connected to construction delays.
Hoffman Construction said the extra costs are closer to $16.9 million. A dispute-resolution board recommended the reduced amount.
Most of the extra costs are related to the complex steel web that holds the whole thing together.
The whole thing, in fact, seems confusing during a first walk-through.
"It's intuitive," City Librarian Deborah Jacobs said to reassure reporters and photographers.
Linda Larson, a member of the library board, described the interior layout as "unfolding" to visitors.
From many higher floors you can look down on the levels below.
From every corner you can watch the buzz of the city outside.
Like other buildings designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, Seattle's new library has an ultramodern feel.
"It isn't a design he just pulled out of a drawer and applied to this city -- anything but," said Miller, whose architecture firm became a partner in the new library with Koolhaas' Office for Metropolitan Architecture in the Netherlands.
"This design is very specific for Seattle and for this program," said Miller.
At the moment, the inside looks gray and cold and big.
But the building will add soft-fabric art in the children's area, focusing on folk stories and such characters as Paul Bunyan's blue ox Babe and a colorful phoenix.
Bright materials and colors are planned throughout the building
The "living room" on the third floor will feature vibrant carpets and a red serpentine sofa that seats 20.
This level will include a gift shop and coffee cart, a teen center, video collection, magazines and newspapers. It will be a place to rest up and catch up.
Any doubts that this is a different sort of library vanish in the fifth-floor "mixing chamber."
A whole floor will be devoted to what used to be called the reference desk.
But that was before there were so many ways of getting information and vast number of resources. Librarians will be available to work one-on-one with library visitors. About 130 of the library's 400 computers will be on this floor.
One of the library's unique features -- the book spiral -- was created with help from Larson, the library board member.
Remember the Dewey Decimal system? The non-fiction collection will take a new twist in the new library. Books will be arranged in a continuous spiral that will ramp up four levels. To make it even handier, the elevator buttons include the Dewey Decimal stops.
On top of it all is the reading room, where the ceiling soars 40 feet overhead in some places. There will be walnut-colored wood floors, views of Elliott Bay and light in an atrium setting.
"The whole thing just feels very energetic, inside and outside," said Alexandra Harris, capital program director for the library.
BY THE NUMBERS
Seattle's new library by the numbers:
$165 million -- cost of the project, including furniture and $10 million to rent the temporary library location at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.
$77.5 million -- the amount raised by the Seattle Public Library Foundation for better furniture, the best technology and enhancements to the collection.
1.4 million -- books the new library can hold on its shelves.
18,400 -- cubic yards of concrete poured to build the library.
9,994 -- pieces of exterior glass.
4,644 -- tons of steel.
400 -- computers for public use.
328 -- employees at the new central library.
275 -- seats in the auditorium.
143 -- underground parking spaces.
11 -- floors.
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