Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Seattle Library Revisited

Koolhaas' Casa da Musica in Porto.

A year ago this January there was a discussion of modern architecture over at Roger's place kicked off by Roger's visit to the Seattle Library. Some of us, *cough*, felt that Rem Koolhaas had created an unlivable monstrosity and scammed Seattle for millions of dollars for the privilege of doing so. Well, guess where Koolhaas lives?
SPIEGEL: Some people say that if architects had to live in their own buildings, cities would be more attractive today.

Koolhaas: Oh, come on now, that's really trivial.

SPIEGEL: Where do you live?

Koolhaas: That's unimportant. It's less a question of architecture than of finances.

SPIEGEL: You're avoiding the question. Where do you live?

Koolhaas: OK, I live in a Victorian apartment building in London.

So there you have it. At least the man knows what works, he just chooses to torture the rest of us for his own perverse pleasure. More here. I admit that I chose the ugliest photo for illustration. For I am a professional. Here is a view of lesser ugliness.
HT eta-ta.


Fresh Air said...


The same thing is true in Chicago. While Mies Van der Rohe was creating his horrible glass-and-steel monstrosities along Lake Shore Drive and ruining a generation of architects at IIT he lived in a gracious neo-Georgian apartment building built in 1910.

Syl said...

Let's all go back to thatched huts!

Actually, IMNSHO, many of these 'monstrosities' wouldn't look/feel/seem/be so bad if they were among a variety of similar type 'monstrosities'.

They're jolting otherwise.

The phrases to remember are:

Form follows function


Variety in Unity.

Without closer study I don't know if the first is adhered to, but the second surely is not.

Of course having an entire city of them probably wouldn't be so hot either.

Anonymous said...

Unusable spaces, hallways to nowhere, fewer and less accessible books, cheap furnishings, noisy. In ten years, it will be a ramshackle little eyesore. But by then, nobody will be using libraries anyway.

Knucklehead said...

It does seem one heck of a fugly building. It calls to mind, for me at least, a large version of look captured by some of the stuff that finds its way to the curb on "big garbage" days.

What I'll never know is if the place is a good library or not. As Syl said, does the form follow the intended function. I've always thought the Guggenheim in NYC an eyesore - especially when viewed up close in the context of its surroundings. To these eyes it just does not belong where it is. It might look much better standing sorta solo like that library seems to.

I'm no expert on art museums but of the one's I've been in I prefer the Guggenheim in NYC for viewing art.

Syl said...

Actually, these things ARE ugly. They look like laser printers.

Knucklehead said...

That's exactly what the fugly thing looks like! You got the eye, girl!

Rick Ballard said...

I disagree. It looks like a laser printer that was dropped and landed upside down. A subtle but poignant difference.

I find that my thoughts haven't changed since I first saw pictures of this thing. There are some really, really dumb people in Seattle who have far more responsibility than the evidence of their judgement would deem justifiable.

MeaninglessHotAir said...


I've always thought the Guggenheim was brilliant--a perfect way to view art. Granted, it doesn't fit with its surroundings, but that's not always paramount. We expect art museums to be a piece of art themselves, and it is one.

Knucklehead said...


When it comes to art or the viewing of it I wouldn't know perfect if it fell on me. I am, for lack of a better description, "lazy" when it comes to enjoying the arts. I don't generally want to feel as if I've worked when I'm through with my visit.

With the exception of the Guggenheim, and to a lesser extent the East Building of the National Gallery in DC, I leave feeling as if the whole thing was very easy and pleasant.

Or, to try and put it another way, I've generally quit my visits to art museums at the point where I felt it was too much, time to go. I've been to Guggenheim and the East Building several times each and was perfectly happy to wander around until something forced me to stop. This was especially notable at the Guggenheim. It works - at least as far as I'm concerned.

truepeers said...

Well, in my experience, from back in the days when I read books in libraries, it was always much harder to concentrate (on books) in the beautiful buildings, say the Gothic chapel library, than in the modernist monstrosities where there was nothing to look at.

On my brief visit to the Seattle library, I appreciated the book spiral for this reason (kind of like being in a submarine, i imagined) though i noticed the collection was rather impoverished compared to the pretensions of the building.

I would say at least half the patrons of that library thought it a good place to plug into the internet. The place is wired for the laptop demographic, and while there were many empty reference terminals, most library patrons seemed to be jammed into the room for machines connected to the net. It's kind of funny, but oh so human when you think about it, that we are still building grand centralized buildings to serve a desire to keep one foot in the old urbanity while connecting to the most decentralized medium of all.

Charlie Martin said...

Isn't that where Luke bought the droids?

Charlie Martin said...

Knuck, you're talking about the New York Guggenheim? The Frank Llyod Wright one? The one that makes the whole exhibit one continuous stroll, instead of breaking it up artificially into arbitrary little exhibits?

Bite your toungue, man!

(Not to mention the worlds' best indoor sledding hill.)

Knucklehead said...


That's the one I'm talking about. I don't know diddley about art, art museums, or how best to look at art in museums. All I know is that the Guggenheim works for me. But like I said, I judge it an eyesore where it is.

It works for me when I'm inside of it but not when I'm outside of it.