Seattle Central Library

Seattle, Washington

Project Size:

404,000 square feet

Project Status:

Completed 2004

LEED Status:

Certified LEED New Construction Silver


Civic Design

Associate Architect:

Office for Metropolitan Architecture in joint venture with LMN


Which Buildings and Spaces Do You Think Defined the Past 20 Years?

Interior Design, 01/15/2020

The 20 Most Beautiful Libraries in the U.S.

Curbed, 03/14/2018

The Making of a Library

Metropolis, 10/01/2004

High Tech Bibliophilia

The New Yorker, 05/24/2004

On Many Levels, Library's a Hit

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 05/04/2004

Selected Awards

2005 AIA Northwest & Pacific Region

Honor Award

2005 AIA National

Honor Award for Architecture

2005 ALA/AIA

Library Building Award of Excellence

2004 AIA Seattle Chapter

Honor Award

2001 AIA What Makes It Green?

Sustainable Design Award

2000 AIA Seattle Chapter

Not Yet Built/Award of Merit

The Seattle Central Library is the flagship of the Seattle Public Library system. Innovative in both form and function, the contemporary, glass and steel building is the third central library to occupy the city block between Fourth and Fifth Avenues.

Designed with growth in mind, the 11-story Central Library has the capacity for more than 1.5 million books and materials (compared to 900,000 in the old building). It also has moved into the digital age with more than 400 computers for public use (compared to 75 previously) as well as wireless Internet access.

The design objective, by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Ramus, in partnership with LMN, was to create a building that honors books, and at same time, is very forward-looking to reflect major technological advances in the information business.

Following extensive research, the design is a direct expression of the modern library’s program and the functional requirements of its users. The total program area is over 40 percent bigger with 362,987 square feet, and an additional 49,000 square feet of underground parking. Collections, administration and staff, information and public space functions are arranged to optimize daylight and city views.

Entrances on Fourth and Fifth Avenues include a variety of public spaces and collections, an auditorium and a cafe. Other special elements are the “mixing chamber,” where subject specialist librarians, reference materials and electronic resources are all available at a central reference area, a 3-1/2-story book spiral and a book sorter.

The sorter resembles an airport’s luggage conveyor belt. The system takes books from the return bin, and using radio chips embedded in each book automatically sorts them to the correct bin or branch truck. The building’s exterior consists of diagonal steel and I-beam structural systems that form diamond shapes overlaid with a skin of glass and an aluminum sun-screening element.