Bruce Mau Design

Redefining the role of libaries in the information age

Seattle Public Library: Redefining the role of libaries in the information age

When BMD began working on the Seattle Public Library project, we started by wondering: What is the future of libraries in the home of Microsoft? In other words, what will libraries become in an increasingly digital age?

We had to confront two difficult phenomena: the explosion of media and information, and the expansion of civic roles for libraries.

Our creative breakthrough was inspired by City Librarian Deborah Jacobs, who said: "Libraries are not just depositories of books, but cornerstones of democracy. True democracy - based upon the informed consent of the governed - cannot exist without full free and public access to knowledge."

Working with Rem Koolhaas and Seattle-based LMN Architects, we applied Jacobs' principle to every aspect of the project, including the actual design process. All major decisions were conducted with total transparency, and input was sought from the public via open meetings and televised presentations.

Our design was integrated seamlessly into the architecture of the building. We implemented playful supergraphics and title walls, a glass wall for the children’s area and a sandblasted wordmark overlooking the outdoor plaza. For the “Spiral” (Collections Area), we devised flexible “stack mats,” made from die-cut rubber, that could be picked up and moved to accommodate expanding collections.

Instead of increasing shelf space for reading, listening and viewing materials, we used digital storage technology to free up physical space where visitors can interact with one another, and with the knowledge around them.

When opened for the public, New York Times Critic, Herbert Muschamp, called the library "the greatest new building [he'd] ever had the pleasure of reviewing."

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Libraries are not just depositories of books, but cornerstones of democracy. True democracy cannot exist without free and public access to knowledge.

City Librarian Deborah Jacobs

We implemented playful supergraphics, title walls, a glass wall for the children’s area and a sandblasted wordmark overlooking the outdoor plaza.

Intense vertigo gives way to erotic stimulation. Over here, you're an actor, over there a spectator. Don't look now, but the library could be reading you.

Herbert Muschamp, New York Times