Last week I took friends of mine to visit the world-famous Seattle Public Library, Central Branch, designed by Rem Koolhaus. See other Posts on this site plus the link to this incredible piece of sculpture – Leeds certified sculpture.
My architect friend was astonished at the building, and he’s been around the world a number of times being astonished by many buildings.
Aside from the building itself, however, we made an incredible discovery that day in the Seattle Room: the original “Concept Book” which laid out for the public the results of years of analysis and dialogue between the two principle firms – OMA in the Netherlands and LMN in Seattle.
The first page blew me away. It reads:
“Seattle Public Library
The Library represents, maybe with the prison, the last of the uncontested moral universes: communal accommodations for ‘good’ (or necessary) activities… The moral goodness of the Library is intimately connected to the value of the book: the Library is its fortress, librarians are its guardians… As other mediums of information emerge and become plausible, the Library seems threatened, a fortification ready to be ‘taken’ by potential enemies. In this scheme, the Electronic is identified with the Barbaric. Its ubiquity and its uncontrollable accessibility seem to represent a loss of control, depth, tradition, civilization. In response, the language of the Library has become moralistic and defensive: its rhetoric proclaims – implicity and explicitly – a sense of superiority in mission, in social responsibility, in value… The Library’ s insistence on one kind of literacy has blinded it to other emerging forms that increasingly dominate our culture, especially the huge efficiencies (and pleasures) of visual intelligence. New libraries don’t reinvent or even modernize the traditional institution; they merely package it in a new way.“
Look at it yourself and be amazed.