The new Seattle Public Library opened on May 23, 2004 and it's an interesting structure that people seem to love or hate. I've always loved architecture (and I really wanted to be an architect when I was growing up :)) so more than anything I just wanted to learn more about the structure. I didn't expect to hear all about it last night; I thought we were just going to wander…but in fact, last night's event was great! A Principal from the LMN Architects firm discussed the ideas and principals behind the library's design and I was SOLD! The concepts behind the design make a ton of sense. They created “platforms,” each with a function and each with room to grow. And that's what surprised me the most; they started talking about “fillfactor.” Ok, they didn't use that term but there it was….

One of the biggest problems facing libraries is their ever expanding collection of books… and as we know they don't just place books at the “end” of the shelves. They have to put the books into the proper section, etc. And – as sections EXPLODE (think of the size of the computer section in 1960 and think of it now) and others shrink they need to “shift” books to make room. When a library is broken into defined floors it makes it very challenging to expand/shrink. Instead, libraries tend to create “forwarding pointers” (no, they didn't use this word either)… These forward references get you to where the “overflow” books are – on another floor, in another building or in the basement. This becomes confusing and eventually a ton of movement needs to be done and/or the library just doesn't work any longer and needs to expand. 

So – when they were designing the SPL (Seattle Public Library) they created a “books spiral” which cleverly creates a rotating set of floors as if they were one really long floor just spiraling down (about the equivalent of seven city blocks)… OK, I'm doing a horrible job explaining it but the bottom line is that they currently house somewhere around 900,000 books and with this new spiral they can expand selections fairly easily and still have a uniform feel to the library (they expect to be about to hold roughly 1.45 million books). They also (and this is where the fillfactor component comes in) kept free space on the top shelves as well as the bottom shelves so that they had room to grow without a lot of restructuring.

There are so many other interesting design techniques used I've love to spend hours learning more… In fact what they did with the glass to prevent heat is so simple yet effective (the building's entire exterior “net” is made of glass). They inserted thin slices of metal at a parallel to the ground (and so that you could still see through the glass) but at an angle to the glass (because the glass pieces are angled – you'll have to look at the pictures to really see what I mean) and what happens is that the sun reflects off the metal and the library doesn't get overly heated and they still allow in light without having to go with UV film, etc.

Check out the Seattle Times for their slide gallery here and the SPL's slide gallery here. If you're in Seattle you must make a stop at the SPL. There's a lot of info about the library on the web but the best place for details and lots of photos is the main site for SPL, specifically here. Here are a few others of interest:

Seattle Public Library – Main Site
Seattle Public Library: Design is fun on a grand scale
Projects of Rem Koolhaas

Here are a few pics I took:

NeonEscalator.jpg (24.16 KB) - the colors are used to help guide people where to go… I found some of the colors a bit overwhelming (especially the neon green elevators – neon green on the inside)
ReadingArea.jpg (30.67 KB) - lots of defined spaces for reading, relaxing and having a latte (yes, there are coffee stands within the library… of course!)
ReadingAreaTopFloor.jpg (35.13 KB) - this was my favorite area. Probably the equivalent of 12 stories high… you could see Eliott Bay and the colors were just stunning!

Enjoy.