Places that Work: Seattle Central Library

The Seattle Central Library works so well because of something obvious: its architects carefully considered the role of a public library during its projected lifetime and designed it accordingly.

When Rem Koolhaas, Joshua Prince-Ramus of OMA/LMN, and their teams set to work they went into a detailed analysis of what it would take to enrich citizens’ lives and how the job of the building would evolve with the institution it housed. They assessed how technologies and the social and cultural roles of the library would change, for example, at a time when libraries need to house new media, rather than just paper technology.

Opened in 2004, the library’s functionality has been constantly given positive reviews for the past 7 years. This public’s satisfaction is, however, tinged by negative comments about the difficulty of navigating the space, perhaps an outcome of an incomplete way-finding system. But once they locate the desired spaces, users find them functional and pleasant to be in.

This is also a cool place to be. The chartreuse escalators and clear panels that clad the building see to that.  So do the automated book circulation system and the displays indicating what sorts of books library users have checked out in the last hour. These things draw people into the central core of the city to visit the library. As it’s been said many times before, our most sustainable future is predicated on places that encourage concentrated living, enhanced by great buildings and popular services.

Careful planning has made the downtown Seattle public library a place that works. The programming keeps inquisitive Seattle coming back and will likely do so in the future.

Sally Augustin, PhD, is a principal at Design with Science . She is also the editor of Research Design Connections and the author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture (Wiley, 2009). She can be reached at .

Categories: Design, Uncategorized