Seattle LibraryREMEMBER THE FUSS A FEW YEARS BACK WHEN SAN FRANCISCO opened a new main library and everyone griped, “Where are the books?” (There were still books—though some 100,000 had been dumped in a landfill.) The boom in info-technology—and the big role of public libraries in providing Internet access—has turned libraries into online data mails.

But even in a high-tech capital like Seattle, people still believe that actual books aren’t dinosaurs. Next weekend (May 30, 2004) Seattle opens its new Central Library downtown (Bill and Melinda Gates gave $20 million toward its $165 million cost, of which most was paid by public bond)—and though the eye-popping building is wired to the max, it’s a book-centric place.

The amazing architecture—an engineering marvel of glass and crisscrossed steel that jut and cantilever—(Insert Photo )

is the work of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. When he got the commission, he and the library’s board visited a number of libraries in the United States and Europe. “The beauty of the process was that we started not by designing but by thinking,” he says. “In almost every case,” says City Librarian Deborah Jacobs, “we saw the encroachment of books on public spaces:’ So at the heart of Seattle’s library is an expandable space just for books: a ramp that gently snakes around a sun-filled atrium, where you can browse the entire Dewey Decimal System in open stacks, with a capacity of 1.4 million volumes. (It currently holds about 800,000 books.)

Above and below are floors with flexible, people-friendly spaces that include 400 public computers and a vast reference room, dubbed by Koolhaas the “mixing chamber.” Best spot to curl up with a good book: the adult reading room near the top, with 360-degree views of the city and Elliott Bay.



NEWSWEEK Magazine, Inc.

May 24, 2004 (Pg. 12)

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