Seattle Central Library

The Seattle Central Library is the flagship library of the Seattle Public Library system. The 11-story (185 feet or 56 meters high) glass and steel building in downtown Seattle, Washington was opened to the public on Sunday, May 23, 2004. The 362,987 square foot (34,000 m²) public library can hold about 1.45 million books and other materials, features underground public parking for 143 vehicles, and includes over 400 computers open to the public. It is the third Seattle Central Library building to be located on the same site at 1000 Fourth Avenue, the block bounded by Fourth and Fifth Avenues and Madison and Spring Streets. The library has a unique, striking appearance, consisting of several discrete "floating platforms" seemingly wrapped in a large steel net around glass skin. Architectural tours of the building began on June 5, 2006.
In 2007, the building was voted #108 on the American Institute of Architects' list of Americans' 150 favorite structures in the US. There has been a library located in downtown Seattle as far back as 1891; however, the library did not have its own dedicated facilities and it was frequently on the move from building to building. The Seattle Carnegie Library, the first permanent library located in its own dedicated building at Fourth Avenue and Madison Street, opened in 1906 with a Beaux-Arts design by Peter J. Weber. Andrew Carnegie, whose patronage of libraries later included five others in Seattle, donated $200,000 for the construction of the new library. That library, at 55,000 square feet (5,100 m2), with an extension built in 1946, eventually became too small and cramped for a city population that, by the time the library was replaced, had roughly doubled since the library's first opening.

A second library, at five stories and 206,000 square feet (19,100 m2), was built at the site of the old Carnegie library in 1960. The new building designed by architects Bindon and Wright, with Decker, Christenson, and Kitchin as associates, featured an international-style architecture and an expanded interior, with features such as drive-thru service to offset the lack of available parking. George Tsutakawa's "Fountain of Wisdom" on the Fifth Avenue side (relocated to Fourth Avenue in the current library) was the first of that artist's many sculptural fountains. Renewed consciousness of regional earthquake dangers drew concern from public officials about the seismic risks inherent to the building's design.

The architects also worked to make the library inviting to the public, rather than stuffy, which they discovered was the popular perception of libraries as a whole.

For example, a major section of the building is the "Books Spiral," (designed to display the library's nonfiction collection without breaking up the Dewey Decimal System classification onto different floors or sections). New functions include automatic book sorting and conveyance, self-checkout for patrons, pervasive wireless communications among the library staff, and over 400 public computer terminals.

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