Maybe it’s something about the long, gray winters, but the people of Seattle really do love a good book. The city is consistently named one of the most literate in the country, and independent bookstores continue to thrive in Seattle neighborhoods. It’s fitting, then, that one of the most notable buildings to debut downtown in the last few years is the Central Library, a wonder of engineering and architecture built with more than five football fields worth of glass and 4,644 tons of steel.
After much anticipation, the new Central Library opened its doors in 2004 and made headlines right away with the building’s unique design by architects Rem Koolhaus and Joshua Ramus. Hardly a cookie-cutter skyscraper, the Central Library seems to defy gravity with its overhanging upper floors and asymmetrical composition. The building has proven to be a vast improvement over its two predecessors in the same Fourth and Madison location, not only in its aesthetic appeal but also in its practical role as the city’s largest book lender. The library now holds about one million books, and has the capacity for to store 450,000 more. The public facility also has 400 computers, free wi-fi, and an underground parking garage with capacity for 143 cars.
Visitors to the Central Library will immediately notice its futuristic mood. The floors are stark gray concrete, occasionally marked with bright yellow and chartreuse accents, and returned books travel upward through a complex conveyor belt system that uses computer technology to get the books to their intended destination. Most of the non-fiction collection is housed in a “books spiral” that allows visitors to browse books continuously between floors without need for an elevator or stairs. The fifth-floor “mixing chamber” is home to a staff of tech-savvy librarians who are on hand to answer questions and gather information. And the 9,994 sheets of glass that make up the exterior walls let in ample light, defying the stereotype of libraries as stuffy, dark places.
Those with just a few minutes to see the building should take one of the elevators to the 10th floor, where the glass walls afford some great views of downtown Seattle and Elliot Bay. The second floor is also worth a visit. Local coffee and chocolate chain Chocolati operates a coffee bar here, and plenty of couches, tables and computer stations fill the nearby space—perfect for checking email or perusing the latest issue of The New Yorker.
- Monday through Thursday: 10am to 8pm
- Friday and Saturday: 10am to 6pm
- Sunday: noon to 6pm
- (Closed all major holidays)
- Location: Fourth Avenue, Seattle, WA
- Phone: 206-386-4636
- Website: www.spl.org