The multi-award winning Seattle Central Library was opened to the public in 2004. Credit: Atmosphere1/
At the time of the library’s opening, the Book Spiral’s 6,233 bookcases housed 780,000 books. Credit: Stephanie Braconnier/
The library is spread across 363,000ft². Credit: Ɱ/Wikimedia Commons.
The 11-storey Seattle Central Library is the flagship library of the Seattle Public Library system. Credit: Bobak Ha'Eri/Wikimedia Commons.

The Seattle Central Library, located in Seattle, Washington, US, was opened in May 2004. It is the flagship library of the Seattle Public Library system.

The library was designed by the architect firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), owned by the Dutch-based architect Rem Koolhaas,  in a joint venture with local company LMN Architects.

Partnering Koolhaas on the OMA team was another well-known name, Joshua Prince-Ramus, who later founded REX Architects in New York.


The first official building to house Seattle’s public library was built in 1891 on Pioneer Square, eventually moving to a block bounded by Fourth and Fifth Avenues and Madison and Spring Streets.

In 1998, Seattle voters embraced a $196.4m makeover of the library, dubbed ‘Libraries for All’.

The Seattle Central Library was funded under the initiative, which included plans to double the square footage of Seattle’s 22 libraries, including building new branches.

Seattle Central Library design

The 11-floor building spans 412,000ft² and comprises a 363,000ft² library and a 49,000ft² underground parking garage.

It includes innovative features such as a ‘book spiral’ on levels six to nine that displays the entire non-fiction collection continuously and a 50-foot-high living room alongside Fifth Avenue, all housed in a distinctive diamond-shaped glass and steel skin.

The 4,644t conventional steel columns not only carry the weight of the building but support lateral loads such as wind and earthquake movement and the weight of the exterior building skin or curtain wall.

The diamond-grid ‘smart glass’ was made by Okalux and custom-made by Germany’s Seele.

Each area is architecturally defined and designed with varying sizes, palettes, circulation and structures.

The interior is awash with natural light and space, inspiring users to read and borrow actual books in today’s world of online texts and multimedia presentations.

Features of the library

The five stable programmatic clusters, including parking, staff offices, meeting rooms, book stacks and administration, are arranged on overlapping platforms.

The more flexible spaces, including the kids’ area, the living room, the Mixing Chamber and the reading room, occupy the interstitial zones.

Located on the third floor, the Mixing Chamber enables maximum interaction between librarians and patrons.

It serves as a trading floor for information and provides visitors with expert interdisciplinary help.

The Living Room features a teen centre, family fiction collection, shop, coffee bar, the Library Equal Access Project and spaces to read or study.

Its flooring uses a recycled product known as Worthwood, made by Oregon Lumber.

A ‘Seattle Room’ on level ten houses Seattle history and genealogical services. This level also houses the reading room with panoramic city views. Level nine hosts a map room and a writers’ room.

The children’s centre on level one has special reading rooms. The auditorium on the same level can accommodate up to 375 people.

There are 731 seats at study tables without computers and 190 lounge seats, not counting seats for meeting rooms, out of a total $6.4m furniture budget.

Sustainable features of Seattle Central Library

The design incorporated sustainability to exceed Seattle’s energy code by 10%.

The sustainable features of the library include water-efficient mechanical systems.

A rainwater collection tank was built to capture and store rainwater for irrigation uses. The building was installed with environmental-friendly ventilation and fire suppression systems.

Furthermore, recycled material was used in construction to reduce environmental impact.

The library received a Silver rating under the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) programme.

Awards for the library

Seattle’s new Central Library won various awards, including the American Institute of Architects 2005 Honor Award and the American Council of Engineering Companies’ 2005 Platinum Award for Innovation and Engineering.

Contractors involved

The black wall tiles were made from a porous bead foam sound silencer called EPP-ARPRP, sold by Acoustical Surfaces.

Arup was contracted to provide structural and mechanical engineering services, including fire and smoke management.

US-based structural and civil engineering firm Magnusson Klemencic served as the structural engineer for the project.

Hoffman Construction was appointed as the general contractor for the project.

Michael Yantis Associates was contracted to provide acoustic engineering while McGuire Associates provided the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) consulting services.

Inside Outside was responsible for designing the landscape surrounding the library building. The company also advised on interior materials and finishes and provided designs for carpets and the auditorium curtain.

Jones & Jones, a collaboration of landscape architects and planners, was also engaged in landscape design.

Dewhurst Macfarlane & Partners, now known as GL&SS, designed the facade.

Davis Langdon Adamson provided cost estimation for the project. Kugler Tillotson Associates and HKA Elevator Consulting were selected to provide consulting services for lighting and vertical transport, respectively.

Gordon Adams Consulting and Bruce Mau Design also served as consultants for the project.