If you’re looking for a free and exhilarating adventure in Seattle, go explore the avant-garde wonder that is Seattle Public Library’s Central Library. Located right in the heart of downtown, between Spring and Madison streets and Fourth and Fifth avenues, it takes up an entire city block and dazzles from the outside like a big chunk of rock candy; its strange, asymmetric concoction of glass and steel reflecting and distorting the images of surrounding buildings into shattered pieces like a jigsaw puzzle.
When architect Rem Koolhaas designed the building, he let functionality dictate the form, so the exterior took shape around the interior spaces rather than vice versa.
But the exterior is just the tip of the iceberg. Walk inside the doors and you will find yourself immersed in an architectural wonderland of light and colour and texture that will make your spirits soar and your inner child clap its hands in glee.
The first thing that catches my eye every time I enter the building is the fantastic Lew Floor, a tongue and groove maple floor created by Ann Hamilton. It is covered in words; they are the first sentences of books in the LEW (Literacy, ESL & World Languages) Collection, in 11 different languages, and they’re inverted; an echo of traditional printing presses.
It is also an interesting commentary on the changing form of print culture in this era of e-readers and digital media. Our relationship with the printed word has changed dramatically in recent years. Standing on this floor, surrounded by an ocean of words, I regularly see visitors reach down to run their hands across the raised letters and can’t help but feel that the artist is making an argument for the tactile, visceral joy of reading printed material.
You won’t travel far before discovering one of the library’s gleaming citrus escalators and once you spy them, you will be powerless to resist their lure.
Chances are, you will find yourself going up and down several times, just for the fun of it.
The second glowing escalator has a video installation in the wall. Braincast is the work of artist Tony Oursler and is a study of the library as a disseminator of information in printed, spoken, recorded and digital forms.
The last escalator is a one-way affair bringing you to the upper level past glass walls of books and finally emerging under a vast ceiling of glass, steel and upholstery.
I could spend hours here capturing the beauty of these spaces and the vistas they frame.
On the way down, you have two options – walk down through the books spiral or take the elevator. If you go for the latter option, be prepared for yet another splash of colour and make sure to press the button for floor 4. The elevator encloses you in a symphony of chartreuse and chrome….
… and then bursts into a startling sea of red as you tumble out onto the fourth floor.
Wind your way along crimson hallways and lipstick red staircases until you happen across a small hole in the wall.
Look through that hole in the wall and find yourself cast as a living part of Tony Oursler’s Braincast sculpture.
If you cannot make the trip yourself, don’t despair. Here are a few video highlights of my trip through the library last week, so you can join in this architectural adventure.
I’m going for one more trip on the yellow escalator, it’s just too much fun.