Not-So-Koolhaas

Check out this annoyingly scathing review of Koolhaas’ Seattle Public Library. I can understand the pragmatic difficulties of the building, but the author gives no credit to the architectural ideas and concepts behind the design, choosing instead to depict Koolhaas as the naked emperor and failed filmmaker.

…silly and unsettling, there are the doors on Fourth Avenue, the closest thing to a grand entrance: set within bare brushed-metal channels, with no signage identifying the place save the street number “1000.” How hip, how insouciant. Yes, as Jacobs points out, you can tell it’s a library by the bookshelves visible through the adjacent glass walls. But that opaque, tunnel-like doorway in a glass wall remains irreducibly creepy, like a meat locker or abattoir.

Inside that door, foreign-language books and journals are packed away in their own private ghetto by the restrooms, isolated from other collections. And, most unsettling of all, the steeply banked, sternly regimented auditorium, with its view-occluded top levels, recalls both an operating theater and, as Pastier notes, “Orson Welles’ film of The Trial, with everyone sitting in perfect rows.” In that vein, a mood of confinement pervades the whole building… Our Cool House is a miraculous meld of spaciousness and claustrophobia; I met one claustrophobe who says he can’t bear to go into it.

my previous post on this topic…

7 Replies to “Not-So-Koolhaas”

  1. If the building doesnt work at creating a comfortable, easily navigable and safe space,has an ominous negative impact on the city streetscape, and has serious functional problems that will create maintenance and management problems, who cares about “THE IDEAS” behind the building?

  2. Don’t know if you’ve ever visited, but I’m a Seattleite and this is the nearest library to my house. I can assure you that whatever stick Eric S. had up his butt — and you’ll have to forgive him for that, he’s a former Seattle Weekly guy and the twiggage comes with the territory — the majority of us are pretty happy with the facility. Plenty of light, lots of comfortable spaces for reading or joint projects or even socializing, a decent coffee kiosk (yes, in the library!), and a palpable affection for the pleasures of browsing and discovery. Those of us who use it as a library and who aren’t paid to be print-friendly curmudgeons are, in fact, well and truly happy with our Koolhaas. Eric S. is welcome to stay the heck home.

  3. I do.

    The concept of a library and the way it functions is going to have to change. We’re going to have to take chances with new designs and ideas, which, although they may not always be successful, are nonetheless essential steps towards the evolution of what has traditionally been an incredibly imporatant civic building.

  4. I visited Seattle for the first time this past spring, and the library was on my list of places to see.

    In short, I like it. It “feels” like a library, plenty of light and quiet niches where you can study (well maybe, keep reading). Can’t remember details, but I remember there was something about the floor I didn’t like at all.

    The biggest problem, (and this is a problem not specific to Seattle) is that public libraries are becoming hang-outs for all the vagrants, nut-jobs, and homeless people that society has to offer. I went into the building to look around, snap a few pics, and find a pc to check my mail. The streets outside, and entrance, were crawling will all sorts of characters. Inside, entire sections looked like it had been taken over by residents of a homeless shelter. I saw a few cool places where I wanted to sit and read the news or a guidebook for awhile, but the psych ward had already camped out there. I left one area because of loud snoring, and I left another because of the stench.

    At the PC area, I log in to check my mail, glance the NYT, and check my hometown newspaper quickly. A few people away, some douchebag is yapping on her cell phone. I wanted to smack her, then I realize, there’s no phone. She’s carrying on a conversation with her imaginary friend. They’re talking about painting the bathroom. When I left, I had to filter through a gaggle of characters outside the entrance. Not a very comfortable visit overall. I don’t think I’d want to be around there after dark.

    I’m not an architect or an academic, but an amateur archi-hobbyist/enthusiast. This problem is not unique to Seattle, the MLK library in DC is the same (btw, it’s a Mies, a crummy Mies, but the only Mies in town). I’m afraid that a lot of good civic architectural landmarks are “lost” to the general public because they become occupied by characters such as above, then people dont’ want to go or visit there. If they’re not percieved as safe places, people won’t want to go there, and over time, they won’t want to shell out the tax dollars for the construction and upkeep. (See MLK/Mies, who’s future is uncertain) This has already happened of course- the masses would rather spend time in a safe, bland, privately owned, policed, and managed mall than hang out on a downtown main street (even if they’re not looking to shop).

    Anyways, I know this is part of a bigger social problem, but that’s my rant.

  5. Previous poster, forgot to mention:

    If ever in Copenhagen, Denmark, visit the Royal Library addition known as the “Black Diamond”. In some ways it is similar (glass, trapezoidal shape). I don’t know how well it functions as a library, but it has a nice waterfront site and wonderful light inside. I remember a good deal of natural materials, such as stone floors and many wood elements, as well as exquisite bathrooms, and a nice cafe and bookstore on site. It’s much more warm and inviting instead of industrial and theoretical.

    http://www.kb.dk/kultur/diamant/architecture/index.htm

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