“Fulfilling its evolutionary destiny, our Emerald City has been populated by a significant number of migrants, mavericks, and mutants: seed people, future people, people on the edge of thought, the edge of discovery, the edge of tomorrow. To some extent, Seattle remains a frontier metropolis, a place where people can experiment with their lives, and change and grow and make things happen.”—Novelist Tom Robbins, “Here in Geoduck Junction: Finding a Home Among the Migrants, Mavericks, and Mutants of the Pacific Northwest,” Seattle Weekly News, Oct. 9, 2006
It’s been a week since my return from a business trip to Seattle, and the time spent there—three nights, with less than an afternoon devoted to exploring the neighborhood around my hotel—did not match, in length or intensity, the full week of pleasure I experienced in the “Emerald City” on a vacation 18 years ago.
But I saw enough this time to confirm the essential truth of this observation by novelist Tom Robbins, including one city landmark that did not exist in its present form when I came here in 1997: the current, 11-floor incarnation of the Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library.
Now, the exterior of this intellectual center is not especially distinguishable from the other modernist office buildings in the city’s downtown. Nor am I a fan of everything on the inside of this building. (The “Red Floor” strikes me as more distracting than stimulating.)
But Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and former Seattleite Joshua Ramus, after looking at innovative libraries around the world and conferring with the library's board, staff and the public, did come up with the design for a building in the Internet age—a structure with some distinct advances over its predecessor:
*A high-tech book-handling system, operating largely out of public view, transports incoming titles to where they should be shelved.
* The new library has a capacity for more than 1.45 million books and materials—an increase of approximately a third over the old building.
*The total program area is 362,987 square feet, compared with 206,000 in the old building.
*The library has more than 400 computers for public use and wireless Internet access, compared with just 75 public computers in the old building.
Both inside and outside the library, you’ll see evidence that you are, indeed, in Seattle. A sign in back, for instance, speaks of water use—part of the sustainability initiative in a city that prides itself on its environmental consciousness. And, to make users really comfortable, as you can see in the picture accompanying this post, the library has provided a coffee bar.Heck, even the original pioneers up here in the Pacific Northwest were glad to have some liquid refreshment at night around the campfire.