Sunday, September 30, 2007

This is the problem with the Seattle Public Library.

I mean, aside from the fact that it looks like something Picasso barfed up and then flushed. Aside from the whole blight-on-the-landscape thing. I mean, look at it. It's not all bad. After some soul-searching, I've come to appreciate the inside of it. It's bright and airy, with great views of downtown blocks and lots of interesting internal vistas.

But it's also cold. It's as gray as the wettest, coldest kind of January sky. And the internal furnishings don't help. Rem Koolhaas, the joker who designed the whole thing, is Scandinavian, and being from a cold clime himself, he should understand that the last thing you want when you dodge in out of the rain is to feel like you're still out in it. Which is exactly what the SPL does.

I mean, come on. Does this look inviting to you? Or does it look like Stalag 13?
I get a totalitarian vibe just looking at it, which is not the kind of rep I think our fantastic SPL librarians deserve.

And it's all like this. Sure, it's great to have a new public space; I just wish it had actually been designed with the public in mind. That greyish section? It's the stacks, and it's designed like a parking garage. Of course, most parking garages are cramped and not someplace you really want to stay in. They're for parking and leaving.

But then, I'm forgetting the floor that makes you feel like a platelet.

Oh, and while there's an escalator up into the stacks, there's no escalator back down. It's hell finding the stairs, and there are only 3 elevators. Tell me again that this guy designed the building with the people in mind. What people? People with springs in their legs? It's a suicide's dream, the stacks.

This is why, over the last 10 or 12 years, new construction in the Puget Sound, at least of public buildings, has been all about updating the Modern look: clean lines, big windows, earthy textures, yes, and exposed wooden beams and floors that have been stained a warm hue.

Know why? So that when you're inside, you feel warmer, surrounded by all that warm wood. Rather than the cold dark cement, dampish grey metal, and plastic lime-green accents of the Seattle Public Library.

Look at this little collection of shots. Doesn't it just say "I Am A Number" to you? That gridwork over the front - it's so binary. And reading is not about 1s and 0s; being part of the public debate isn't like that either. We're not Danish and we're not so goddamn modern that we have lost our souls along the way. So why does our library - arguably the most important public edifice we have - make it look as if we have?

If nothing else, you've got to admit that the thing bears a striking resemblance to an Ikea. I keep looking for housewares and Swedish fish.

Just look at that door. What does it say to you? Because I'm hearing Soylent Green is people.

I thought after the thing had been standing for a few years, I would have gotten used to it - and in fact I really do like it on a sunny day. Then, it's a welcome respite from the heat, a great place to people-watch, and - as long as you don't try to make it up to the stacks, because God knows you're not getting back down without a fight - an enjoyable place to spend an afternoon.

But let's face it: when it's sunny, I'm gardening, or walking around the lake, or kayaking. Winters are when I find myself wanting to go to the library, and since the balance of our winters are rainy and gray, that Danish jackass who designed it didn't do thic city's readers any favors. It was designed to get press for Rem Koolhaas. It wasn't designed to serve the citizens of Seattle.


Blogger Elizabeth said...

I could not agree with you more.

8:50 AM  
Blogger debra said...

It is not what my mind sees when i think "library"---you are so right about the Ikea imagery! Too bad those who design these places don't live where the buildings and its neighbors do...

6:17 PM  
Blogger inkgrrl said...

Ook, I see what you mean. That does nothing for my desire to snuggle with a book. Makes me think of the Denver airport, actually, only less graceful. What a shame.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Brooke said...

Kari, excellent point - I love Denver International for the same reasons I hate the SPL: because DIA was designed with its users in mind. It's so clean and airy; it's a lovely space to move through, which, let's face it, is what you do in an airport.

Libraries are not for moving through, though; they're for finding information and then taking it in. And SPL is just an uncomfortable place to do that. We're not 1s and 0s! I am not a number!

9:59 AM  
Blogger Dana Belfry Romance Author said...

Oh.My.Gosh! What a tragedy. Somewhere Frank Lloyd Wright is spinning in his grave like a pinwheel.

4:04 PM  
Blogger Jo said...

My dad, who's studied architecture and architects for, oh, the last sixty years or so, agrees with you completely.

So do I. I haven't been through the library yet (the Seattle Pub Tour is only in its tenth year, after all), but from these pictures... eh.

1:05 AM  

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