This blog is the final course electronic project by Sergio Miguel Figueiredo and Dawn Fratini on the Seattle Central Library and its connections to topics and issues discussed in the Media Theory for the 21st Century seminar (UCLA, English Department).

Architecture

Architecture does not solely exist in its spatial built form, but also (and sometimes almost exclusively) in several different mediums and/or representations. Several radical proposals from a wide range of architects, like Gaudi, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd-Wright, Archigram or Peter Eisenman exist in the collective memory of the discipline in their unbuilt form, in an array of mediums such as texts, plans, sections, details, photographs, renderings, physical models, collages, among others. In this assortment of mediums, architecture has been conceptualized, explained and discussed.

Representations of Architecture

The representation of architecture has been thoroughly traced and discussed across a broad historical period by architects, architectural critics and art historians alike. For this project, we take as our basis the notion, argued by Alberto Perez-Gomez, that “representation is never a neutral tool” (1998) or a simple depiction of a building, but that architecture has truly been shaped by exploring the tremendous potential and conforming to the inherent limitations to specific mediums.

Virtuality of Architecture

As our specific topic, we consider the Seattle Central Library as an instance of architecture, not as a singular building, but instead, following the definition of architecture put forth by N. Katherine Hayles and Todd Gannon:

… we posit that architecture is a function of embodied discourse, that is, discourse instantiated in speech or, more typically, written or graphical documents…. Embodied buildings and embodied documents are physical objects witnessing to architectural acts, but architecture can never be reduced to these objects. Rather, architecture partakes fundamentally of the virtual in the Deleuzian sense, a nimbus of potentialities in dynamic interaction with the actuality of buildings and documents.

singular-general

In order to frame and illustrate the general idea of architecture and its dissemination in different media, we have decided to analyze a singular piece of architecture which exists in several different mediums and representations, and which has been widely discussed in several different circle, namely the Seattle Central Library. From the specific and quite particular situation of the Seattle Central Library we expect to be able to draw some understanding of the process of how architecture copes and is expressed in different media produced by different agents for different audiences.

Why the Seattle Central Library?

In Database Aesthetics, Victoria Vesna writes:

With rapid technological advances in access and retrieval of information through large computer databases, libraries are changing, and thus the way we form knowledge and narrative is also changing.

With this in mind, an actual library designed in and for the “age of information overflow” seemed like a particularly good subject for our examination of architecture from the perspective of our class (Media Theory for the 21st Century). We’ve focused here on topics of database, narrative, code, embodiment, techno-determinism, and media ecologies.

The building’s principle architect, Rem Koolhas envisioned the library of the future as “an information storehouse, orchestrating the coexistence of all available technologies.” Koolhaus has argued also that in the past the main concern was to find information; in the future it will be to select information.

As such we considered the Seattle Central Library a site of particular interest as a reflection of the “discourse network” circa 2000 and of the media ecologies of information-dissemination in the 21st century.

(For a discussion of the SCL as a database and an expression of database aesthetics, see SCL as database.)

Seattle Central Library

The new building of the Seattle Central Library is located in downtown Seattle (1000 4th Avenue) and occupies a full city block delimited by 4th and 5th Avenue, and Madison and Spring Street. After the initial international competition in 1998, the building opened to the public in May 23, 2004.

This 11 story glass and steel structure has a unique form derived from the interior positioning of several discrete floating platforms (housing the different programs of the library) wrapped by a glass skin and steel net structure. The Seattle Central Library was designed by the Dutch architect and Pritzker Prize and Mies van der Rohe Prize winner Rem Koolhaas and his office OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) in collaboration with the Seattle based office LMV. From the beginning, this design has been widely debated and its impact has been profound since, as Herbert Muschamp puts it, “apart from its strengths in structure, form and space, the building exemplifies Koolhaas’s reliance on the architectural program: the organization of space according to use and function”. Love it or loathe it, no one is indifferent to this design, evidenced by both the volume of material generated about this building and the large number of visitors attracted. Architectural tours of the building began on June 2006, after which, visitors were presented with a fold paper model of the building.

material and media

The distinct design and spatial experience of the Seattle Central Library has generated a great deal of critical, industrial and popular discourse as evidenced and embodied in documents from a wide-range of sources, in many different mediums, and circulating in a wide variety of social-cultural contexts.

Therefore, we have tried in this project, to assemble materials from various sources, “an information storehouse, orchestrating the coexistence of all available technologies” (Koolhas, referring to the future of libraries) .

Furthermore, the conscious decision was made to select representative examples from each different media, somehow reflecting the idea, argued by Koolhaas, that in the past the main concern was to find information, in the future it will be to select information.

Through the examples on these blog pages and the accompanying mini-essays, we attempt to critically address issues raised by the massive diffusion of this building through multiple media and to establish a connection between architecture and its representations via the topics discussed throughout the quarter in our seminar. We’ve give particular attention to issues of techno-determinism, code, embodiment and the cultural embedment of architecture.

Database

For this project, we have endeavored to assemble a database of documents from multiples sources. We do not pretend that this database is exhaustive or even extensive. It is merely a sampling. To this sampling, we have added our own documents in the form of mini-essays, in which we examine these various media documents, with particular attention to the dynamic tension between the building’s virtuality and its actuality.

The documents appear in no particular order. We have tagged the items with attributes, such as: medium, intention, audience, view, producer, position and source. This allowed us to create associative, but not narrative, links between the items and to reveal some of the disguised connections between this plethora of representation on different levels. The tag cloud (right) allows users to view items via these associations (these syntagms) which are of course merely suggestions.

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