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Public Library


Robert Thompson_ DIAWS_08 Architectural Analysis_Christos Passas



Library Location.

CLIENT Seattle Public Library PROGRAM Central library for Seattle’s 28-branch library system, including 33,700 m² of hq, reading room, book spiral, mixing chamber, meeting platform, living room, staff floor, children’s collection, and auditorium, and 4,600 m² of parking AREA 38,300 m² (412,000 sf) PROJECT COST $169.2 million STATUS Commenced 1999; completed 2004 ARCHITECT OMA | LMN

Reception area in lobby space.

designers words

view from madison st.

Inside lobby looking towards entry

Entry Situation

The Seattle Central Library redefines the library as an institution no longer exclusively dedicated to the book, but as an information store where all potent forms of media—new and old—are presented equally and legibly. In an age where information can be accessed anywhere, it is the simultaneity of all media and, more importantly, the curatorship of their content that will make the library vital. Flexibility in contemporary libraries is conceived as the creation of generic floors on which almost any activity can occur. Programs are not separated, rooms or individual spaces not given unique characters. In practice, this means that bookcases define generous (though nondescript) reading areas on opening day, but, through the collection’s relentless expansion, inevitably come to encroach on the public space. Ultimately, in this form of flexibility, the library strangles the very attractions that differentiate it from other information resources. Instead of its current ambiguous flexibility, the library could cultivate a more refined approach by organizing itself into spatial compartments, each dedicated to, and equipped for, specific duties. Tailored flexibility remains possible within each compartment, but without the threat of one section hindering the others. Our first operation was to “comb” and consolidate the library’s apparently ungovern-

able proliferation of programs and media. By combining like with like, we identified programmatic clusters: five of stability and four of instability. Each platform is a programmatic cluster that is architecturally defined and equipped for maximum, dedicated performance. Because each platform is designed for a unique purpose, their size, flexibility, circulation, palette, structure, and MEP vary. The spaces in between the platforms function as trading floors where librarians inform and stimulate, where the interface between the different platforms is organized—spaces for work, interaction, and play. By genetically modifying the superposition of floors in the typical American high rise, a building emerges that is at the same time sensitive (the geometry provides shade or unusual quantities of daylight where desirable), contextual (each side reacts differently to specific urban conditions or desired views), iconic. The problem of traditional library organization is flatness. Departments are organized according to floor plans. Each floor is discreet; the unpredictable fits of growth and contraction in certain sections are, theoretically, contained within a single floor. In 1920, the Seattle Public Library had no classification for Computer Science; by 1990 the section had exploded. As collections unpredictably swell, materials are dissociated from their categories. Excess materials are put in the basement, moved to off-site storage, or become squatters of another, totally unrelated department.

view from corner 4th ave and madison st

lobby looking towards living room

corner of 4th ave and Spring st.

The Book Spiral implies a reclamation of the much-compromised Dewey Decimal System. By arranging the collection in a continuous ribbon—running from 000 to 999—the subjects form a coexistence that approaches the organic; each evolves relative to the others, occupying more or less space on the ribbon, but never forcing a rupture.

looking down from book spiral to lobby sitting area

The Spiral’s 6,233 bookcases housed 780,000 books upon opening, with flexibility to grow to 1,450,000 books in the future (without adding another bookcase). ...

generative diagrams


These diagrams resulted from the idea of a hyper-ratianal process. This process is decribed as ‘A process which transcends all the baggage that comes with what would be called a rational conclusion’


fig.1 - the evolution of the library itself along with what it holds it illustrates how much aspects of the functions within and supporting a libray has evolved. fig.2 - maps the evolution of the book compared to other forms of information medium. fig. 3 - this is a reorganised and compartmentalized illustration of the program parameters given to the designers by the clients which subsequently became the main generating idea behind the librarys form.


analysis diagrams

Entry level floor plan

fig.4 fig.4

Analysis of Building Entry Level: main public interaction space

Fourth floor

fig.5 4th level: free flowing circulation around reading rooms and computer roms


Seventh Floor


fig.6 7th floor: ramping element(bookspiral) with views to lower storeys both inside and outside partitioned areas

Section A-A

fig.7 Section:book spiral condition+level organisation and compartmentalization


Interpretations For the sake of a more personal interpretation. a drawing along with two other model were created to highlight different interesting points of the building fig.8 represents the break down of the facade/skin of the building into its singular pieces then arrange as a art piece it demonstrates the singularity of the skin that holds the entire library together. fig.9 takes the pieces of the skin and tranforms them in to volume further highlighing its singularity on a more structural level. fig.11 gives a break down of the elements existing in the model. using tags. ‘visually permeable: expresses the materiality of the skin. ‘floating volumes’: represents the different compartments which holds program. ‘structure/bridging’: represents the actions within the structural members of holding on to everything. social platform/hirearchies and users: all represent the concept of the social effects found in this building and how the lines of hirearchy is blurred.




fig.10 model from different perpectives.


social platforms

visually permeable skin

floating volumes





view from above showing the mezzanine level

The Seattle Library’s design scheme was conceived through programatic manipultation, and the need to redefine the concept of the library as history describes it. The Library’s design is a demonstration of how to blur the lines of client involvment in the design process, this idea serves intrinsically as a localized innovation between client and designer. contextually, the building does not seek a direct responce as it’s main aim surpasses the idea of context. however it responds to contextual elements, mainly the street, with the shifting of it’s volmes creating a relationship between the two. another key concept specific to the building is Social communication this aids in redefining the library as a public space where different themes of interaction occurs.

Seattle library study  

elective at the DIA

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