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.
Certified LEED® Silver Stormwater collection and reuse system Hybrid engineering systems The heat island effect of dark and hard landscape surfaces is reduced by locating all parking below grade and designing site landscaping with over forty drought tolerant trees to provide shade around the building. A high reflectance/high emissivity EPA Energy Star roof system was installed. A transparent building design that maximizes the use of natural light and allow views both into and out of the library.