9 Seattle Central Library

Seattle, Washington
Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus, 2004

The Seattle Central Library in downtown Seattle Photo Credit: Courtesy of Seattle Public Library

The building makes a striking, sculptural statement in the center of Seattle’s downtown. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Seattle Public Library

The diamond pattern on the building’s glass skin is actually an earthquake support feature, adding stability to the multi-faceted structure. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Seattle Public Library

Expansive common areas make the library a communal place – an aspect of the design that has drawn criticism. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Seattle Public Library

The building’s latticework exterior brings light and a sense of airiness to the interior. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Seattle Public Library

Neon green escalators create an interior portal, carrying people into the upper floors. Photo Credit: Alan Brunettin

Seattle Central Library

A far cry from the neoclassical building it replaced, the Seattle Central Library is a dramatic, even startlingly modern presence in downtown Seattle.

Much as architect Eero Saarinen researched airports worldwide before designing Dulles International Airport, architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus visited libraries to re-envision what a library could be. The resulting complex polygonal structure, with its bold geometric planes of glass and steel and soaring interior common spaces, made big waves in the architecture world.

Writing in The New Yorker, architecture critic Paul Goldberger called the building “thrilling from top to bottom,” saying that it “conveys a sense of the possibility, even the urgency, of public space in the center of a city.”

New York Times critic Herbert Duchamp wrote: “If an American city can erect a civic project as brave as this one, the sun hasn’t set on the West. In more than 30 years of writing about architecture, this is the most exciting new building it has been my honor to review.”

The design had its detractors as well. Lawrence Cheek, writing for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, gave the building credit for re-energizing the urban center, but criticized its functionality as a library: “This library feels communal and theatrical instead of personal and contemplative, focused so outwardly on the world that it has no time for the individual.”

Since it opened, the library has seen visitorship of twice its projections. In fact, in its first year, 2.3 million people visited the library, including many from out of town.