Seattle’s Central Library, unlike big downtown libraries in other cities, has been listed as an attraction in Where magazine for years. It has been on Ruth and my list of things to see in the Northwest’s biggest and most vibrant city; but it’s downtown near Pioneer Square in a congested urban area so we haven’t, until it ended up on Atlas Obscura due to its Red Hall. This made it essential for us to check out. When I asked the staff, “Why is it red?”, the response was mystification. No one knew.
The Central Library on Seattle’s Fourth Avenue is in a stunning building designed by Dutch power architect Rem Koolhaas. Where calls it “one of the most unusual libraries in the world”. It is. Opened in 1994, its 11 levels of glass-enclosed building stacks allow the outside in. It’s full of what Atlas Obscura describes as “unexpected architectural vistas”. This is, without question, a tourist attraction.
Color is definitely part of its appeal. The escalators glow with yellow light, and there’s that red 4th level with meeting rooms. There are public computers throughout, 350 of them, and comfortable seating everywhere that’s especially attractive to Seattle’s many homeless residents, etc.
When Ruth & I asked a staff member what not to miss as we toured the building, he said to pay attention to the many art installations everywhere, so we took the escalator-elevator combo to the 10th level to discover a reading room, the last floor with public access, and the building’s highest viewpoints. Levels 6 through 9 formed what’s called the Books Spiral, which housed most of this library’s non-fiction collection, and every visible work station seemed to be occupied by a seriously studying Seattleite. Level 3 featured an impressive collection of movies, TV shows, and graphic novels. It even had a gift shop. Level 1 had 4th Avenue access, check-out stations, a large auditorium with Microsoft’s name on it, and the Children’s Center. It seemed to be, if the # of people there was any indication, library central. Below it was underground parking.
spl.org provides lots of information about this library’s functions including upcoming programs, classes, and events. This is how a 21st century library should look, even the red floor.