April 24, 2018

Seattle Critic: I Was Wrong in Praising New Central Library

By LJ Staff

"I’m becoming less enthusiastic about Seattle’s crystal palace on each successive visit," asserts Lawrence Cheek, an architecture critic who contributes to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, regarding the much-lauded Rem Koolhaas-designed Central Library of the Seattle Public Library (SPL). "It’s time for a reconsideration – something like what architects call a post-occupancy evaluation, which looks at how a building is working for people in everyday use," he writes in an appraisal published yesterday. "This one feels, in varying places, raw, confusing, impersonal, uncomfortable, oppressive, theatrical and exhilarating." While the tenth-floor reading room "connects startlingly with Seattle’s urban energy," he observes that "the room is badly designed and cheesily detailed."

As for the "book spiral," Cheek votes no: "It’s relentlessly monotonous and there are few attractive study niches." Still, he acknowledges that the library "has energized our urban center more than any building in Seattle’s history" and boosted SPL’s image and substance enormously. He observes: "A building can be great and still have glaring functional flaws." Indeed, he still thinks it lacks warmth and finds himself agreeing with the critics who challenged him after his "mostly laudatory appraisal at the one-year mark" in June 2005. His conclusion: "A mistake has been made."