Thursday, August 05, 2004

The most exciting building in Seattle, heaven help us

The only reason the new Central Library in Seattle has been hailed as an architectural masterpiece is that the other buildings in downtown are such crap (with the exception of the Smith Tower, but that was built in 1914).

If an architect can't even get information design right for a library, one shouldn't expect a decent building: there are ink-jet printed directions taped up all over the place. As your grand ascent up the escalator ends, there's one taped to the wall that reads, "This is Level 3". There's a long counter with a row of monitors, their backs to those approaching, each crowned with a glued-on label helpfully declaring, "Librarian". And not to mention this sheet of office paper taped to a non-descript door: "Emergency use only. Alarm will sound."

The place reminds me of the Pompidou in Paris, but without the wit. Exposed ducts and lurid plastic - but set in polished concrete, steel floors and gray-stained wood panels. It tries to be elegant with botanical print carpeting in the "Living Room", it tries to be hip with flourescent yellow escalators, and and it tries to be funky with the meeting room level oppressively colored in nine dark shades of red. The gridded glass panels are boring and blunt, even more so for being painted baby blue. The place is minimalist, but it is embarrassed about it. Think pastel brutalism, or guilty minimalism.

The best part is Ann Hamilton's wooden floor on the 4th Avenue level. The slightly raised lettering not only looks good, it feels great underfoot.

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