Rem Koolhaas Seattle Public Library

August 27, 2012 |  Category:   art + design life Seattle & the NW travels

One of the places I wanted to visit on our trip to Seattle this year was the Public Library designed by Rem Koolhaas. I first became familiar with the work of Rem Koolhaas when I was working on the Harvard Graduate School of Architecture website redesign nearly 12 years ago, where Koolhaas is a professor. Also around that time, the innovative Prada store designed by Koolhaus had opened its doors in Soho. The Seattle Library is probably the nicest library I’ve ever been in. While the architecture of the NY Public Library is steeped in history, having recently celebrated its 100 year old anniversary and guarded by a pair of large stately lion sculptures on either side of its wide front steps, the Seattle Central Library is light and air filled with its steel and glass construction and built with sustainable materials wherever possible. Typography plays a big part in the design. Large signage anchors and identifies the different floors and sections of the 8 story building with bold san serif lettering, and there are some surprising and fun elements and bright pops of color, like the all red 4th floor and the neon yellow escalators.


I’m not really sure what took us SO long to check the library out, but it might just become a regular visit on our Seattle trips.
Here’s an amusing interview with Koolhaas along with an exterior shot of the library.

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  • Sally B August 27, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    I love that he describes it as “extravagant architecture” – even if indirectly. It looks wonderful. Thanks for sharing. If I’m ever in Seattle it will definitely be on my list of places to visit.

  • Ana August 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    Our hotel was right in front of the library, but for some reason, we didn’t go in. I made sure to take lots of pictures though! It’s a very cool-looking library.

  • Annie From Seattle August 27, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    It’s a fantastic building, no doubt, but I think lots of us in town are kind of scratching our heads about what the future looks like for it. It was finished, literally, right at the dawn of mainstream use of electronic books. I sometimes walk past it and feel regret that it wasn’t built 10 years later, when we could have made better use of the money for more public computers and meeting spaces. But…oh well. Still a great building!

  • Atsuko August 27, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    I love this library so much when I was living in the Northwest to visit. I just felt that the Northwest is very so big to utilize public libraries. They have so many new books and dvds available to rent.

  • Eve August 27, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    So, so glad you featured this library Jenna! Have always admired it from here the other side of the world….looks amazing. Am sure it’s a real treat for kids (and adults too :))

  • Jocy August 27, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Such a cool public library!

  • Jennelle August 27, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    The first thing I thought, was that it reminded me of the libraries I’ve visited in Holland, and then I see that the architect is Dutch! I’m curious to know if there is a cafe inside of it?

  • Jessica H. August 27, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    The photos in this post and the last remind me of my friend and mine’s trip to Seattle. We are both interested in architecture, and the Seattle Public Library and EMP Museum were two must-sees for us. I almost moved to Seattle, but it wasn’t in the cards for me. The Pacific Northwest is my favorite place to visit in the U.S. though.

  • CarrieSnow August 27, 2012 at 11:53 pm

    Jenelle, there is a cafe inside of it– on the street level entrance.

    I just went to this library for the first time recently when I took my kids to story hour there (which was hosted by SoundBridge, an extension of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra!). We loved the kids’ section– a remarkable space with wonderful details that enable the little ones to play, crawl, look at books, etc. A very vibrant, cheerful space.

    Jenna it’s so cool to see your Seattle references here! I’m not sure how much longer you are here, but if your girls are in need of a play date, let me know– I have a four year old daughter (Brooklyn born and raised til age 3) who is always up for a jaunt in the playground…and it would be fun to meet you in person!

  • Liz August 28, 2012 at 2:01 am

    I made my first trip to Seattle last September and spent so much time in this building I was surprised I didn’t get asked to apply for a library card.
    It is such an amazing space in a beautiful building. Architecture like this inspires me; the beauty of the building is perfectly suited to creating a functional space that is both entertaining and calm. (I wondered if it would be noisy. It isn’t. It really works as a library. A super library.)
    And your photographs are great…I felt like I was there again.

  • Cath W August 28, 2012 at 3:14 am

    Wow – it looks like an amazing library. Have to say though that there are elements that bring to mind Ikea!

  • Jenna August 28, 2012 at 3:22 am

    @Jenelle yes, as carrie mentioned, there is a cafe, but many libraries here in the states have cafes inside.
    @cath Ha! I think that blue column probably makes you think of ikea. It’s that ikea blue.

  • michi August 28, 2012 at 6:21 am

    Such a great place to go when outside it’s a rainy day…..

  • jacqueline | the hourglass files August 28, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    I’ll be honest, when I first started looking at the pictures, I was confused that there was a library in an Ikea. The blue wayfinding columns with yellow writing threw me.

    That is one really cool library.

  • Christine Witt (Brush Dance) August 28, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    That floor! Stunning. I need a road trip!

  • Caroline August 28, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    A few observations…

    Looks like others have mentioned it but nice wayfinding:)

    The stacks in one photo look like worms on a lawn. Love it.

    Not sure I’d be used to such open space in a library though. I’ve grown up liking the cosy claustraphobic quality…

  • Pink Ronnie August 29, 2012 at 12:29 am

    Wow. Love it.
    That floor is just slightly amazing…
    Wish we had something similar here in Australia!
    Ronnie xo

  • Karyn August 29, 2012 at 9:50 am

    Jenna, your photos of this space are absolutely beautiful! Thank you!

  • Melissa@Julia's Bookbag August 29, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Seeing my city through your eyes makes me fall in love with it all over again Jenna! So glad you all had a great time 🙂

  • Sora August 29, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Truly a work of art. What a special place to house all of those books. Definitely on my list of places to visit. Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos.

  • l o v e l y t h i n g s August 29, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Beautiful photos…have always wanted to check this out.

  • Lindsey August 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    I would’ve spent just as much time there! Wish Paris had a library like that !

  • Sally September 1, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    I loved that you mentioned the RED 4th floor of our library! I’ve never met anyone here in Seattle that knows about that. Isn’t it bazaarly spectacularly?!!! Glad you found it. Hope you had a great visit w Lara & gang!

  • Anne September 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    The New Yorker recently had an interesting feature on Bjarke Ingels, who worked on the library when he was with Koolhaas.

  • Vy September 16, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    My family just came back from Seattle too and it’s nostalgic to look at pictures of Seattle. Did you take the girls to Jetti Island? The kids had so much fun in Seattle that I’m convince to make the big move to Seattle in the near future (5 years).
    Oh the library, is this the library without any toilets? I remember it was on the news while I worked in Seattle.
    I’m glad to see someone else love Seattle as we do.