The Making Of A Library

Most writing on architecture treats the profession as a realm of sole authorship, where One Big Name is heaped with praise, quoted extensively, and ultimately held responsible for whether a building succeeds or fails. The truth, of course, is so much more complex that even a book-length work wouldn’t do the process justice. It isn’t just that there are engineers and project managers and contractors who figure out how to make a design physically possible—or that underlings at big architecture firms often end up doing the actual renderings. The complexities arise from the very way ideas form—where they come from, what shapes them along the way, and how they are finally born. To call the Seattle Public Library’s new central branch a “Rem Koolhaas building” is to ignore the three-month research project that preceded the design—the input from librarians, publishers, technology experts, business gurus, even the Department of Justice—not to mention the brainstorms and what-ifs of the architects and designers at Koolhaas’s firm, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, and its partner on the project, Seattle’s LMN Architects. And, no, we’re not forgetting the graphic delights of Bruce Mau Design, the engineering feats of Arup and Magnusson Klemencic Associates, the interior design and landscaping by Inside/Outside, the lighting by Kugler Tillotson Associates, or the furnishings and materials from more firms than we can list. We haven’t the space to tell the whole story, but in this issue (itself the product of our own group effort) we gesture at it—and by scratching the surface hope to reveal both the enormity of this undertaking and the importance that collaboration plays in projects large and small.

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