Seattle Central Library

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.

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

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.

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

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.

lew floor, seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas, Ann Hamilton, tongue and groove floor,

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.

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas, Ann Hamilton, floor, tongue and groove, art

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.

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

Chances are, you will find yourself going up and down several times, just for the fun of it.

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

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.

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas, Tony Oursler, video installation, art

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas, Tony Oursler, video installation, art

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas, Tony Oursler, art installation, video installation

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.

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

I could spend hours here capturing the beauty of these spaces and the vistas they frame.

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

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….

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

… and then bursts into a startling sea of red as you tumble out onto the fourth floor.

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

Wind your way along crimson hallways and lipstick red staircases until you happen across a small hole in the wall.

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas, Tony Oursler, art installation

Look through that hole in the wall and find yourself cast as a living part of Tony Oursler’s Braincast sculpture.

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas, Tony Oursler, art installation, video installation

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.

seattle public library, architecture, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney. Rem Koolhaas

xxx Ailsa

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About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - wheresmybackpack.com - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
This entry was posted in Photography, Travel, United States, Washington and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

50 Responses to Seattle Central Library

  1. Michelle says:

    I never knew the library was so wacky and fun! I will definitely visit the next time I m in Seattle.

    Thank you!!!

  2. John says:

    A fabulous place, especially for abstracts. 🙂

  3. Turnip Times says:

    Beautifully written

  4. garunah says:

    While I am fiercely loyal to Portland’s Central Library, I have to admit this one is pretty fantastic too. Good overview!

    • ailsapm says:

      I haven’t visited the library in Portland but I hear it’s pretty spectacular, at the opposite end of the architectural spectrum from Seattle – it’s Georgian, isn’t it? xxx Ailsa

  5. writecrites says:

    I’m an architecture junkie, so loved the tour (you know I love your videos and this one was excellent). The building reminds me of a beehive, but perhaps that’s because I just read another blog post about bees 🙂

    • ailsapm says:

      Ooh, Jennifer, it does look a little like a beehive when you’re peeping out through the honeycomb of steel and glass! I had a lot of fun making that video, it’s such a colourful place to try to capture on film! 🙂

  6. amazing video of citrus escalators

  7. ledrakenoir says:

    Excellent… 🙂

  8. Pingback: Travel theme: Architecture | Where's my backpack?

  9. 2far2shout says:

    Some stunning interior features, especially the floor. Brilliant. However , I like a building that speaks with form, scale, materials and mass about what it is. From your excellent photographs, this tells me nothing about what a library is. It might well be an Art Gallery or a Concert Hall…

    • allysonyj says:

      I have to agree – where are the books?

      • ailsapm says:

        Ahh, that’s because I was focusing on the design rather than the function. I should do another post on the functionality because their book collection and the layout, in an innovative book spiral that allows for the books to be displayed without a break in the Dewey Decimal System, is wonderful. It would have made for a very long post, however, so perhaps it’s best broken up into two separate posts.

        • 2far2shout says:

          What a good idea to explore the library function of this building.
          However, architecture comes from function. ‘Form follows Function’ a phrase which became the foundation of Modernism and gave rise to the careers of the greatest architects of the twentieth century. Another principle of Modernism is ‘ornament is crime’…. While i dont entirely support the latter, floors, decoration, lighting and escalators are not architecture; they are ornament therefore interior design.
          Does this building, when you view it from the outside, tell you anything about its function?

  10. Rusha Sams says:

    What a terrific post. Now, I really want to go there. Love the floors — like nothing I’ve ever seen before! Thanks for sharing. http://ohtheplaceswesee.com

    • ailsapm says:

      The floors fill me with delight every time I see them. I wonder how difficult it would be to create a floor like that for my very own? 🙂

  11. Rosemarie says:

    I love this. What a wonderful building and a wonderful space. It gives me yet another reason to visit Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.

  12. Sarah Ann says:

    That is one of the neatest buildings! It’s funny how you’d never envision a library to be so modern. The floors in the entryway might be my favorite part, though. Very meaningful. Thanks! Definitely going on my list of places to visit in Seattle!

  13. colormusing says:

    Reblogged this on Lindy Hops! and commented:
    One of my very favorite places in the city where I grew up!

  14. Can I tell you how sad this post made me? BIG SIGH….somehow I missed this gorgeous place on my trip this year. Who knows if I will make it back…but thank you SO much for sharing it with us! Gorgeous pictures.

  15. Very fun pictures and video with great dancetrack! It almost seems like an amusement park! Thanks for the fun cyber tour.

  16. Amy says:

    It’s a well designed modern library! Beautiful photos!

  17. Great photos. Thanks for the tour.

  18. This place is unbelievable! I would be spending an awful lot of time, if I were there. Not only for the books, but this is a photographer’s delight!

  19. Barbara says:

    Dang, we’re going to Seattle next week – well, the Seattle area. This is the first time we won’t be in town and looking for things to do! I so want to go to this library! Thank you for posting these wonderful shots.

    • ailsapm says:

      So glad you enjoyed the tour, Barbara, and hopefully you’ll find a little bit of spare time in your schedule to check it out in person while you’re in town. xxx Ailsa

  20. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    Wow, what great visions of the world you give here – fantastic.

  21. loganbruin says:

    I love that place. I have never found a book I’ve been looking for, because I keep getting distracted and end up having to ask how to find an exit. . .

  22. nice shots!!! love the ones of the braincast! (and ditto to loganbruin!, me either) 😉

  23. Cedar R. says:

    GREAT post about one of my favorite bits of Seattle! You really bring it to life, especially the symbolism behind the floor. The exterior is gorgeous and definitely eye-catching, but that floor is my absolute favorite detail 🙂

  24. pommepal says:

    I adore libraries, for me they are a must see and this one is stunning. Love the cyberspace trip up and down the escalators

  25. Amy says:

    Hi Ailsa, I did an architecture post just a few months ago. Here is the link: http://shareandconnect.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/still-go-home-again/

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