In this image, the Seattle Central Library is illustrated in a personal photo uploaded on the popular photo sharing website flickr by the user fromform taken during the opening of the library. We can observe the playful interaction between the two friends and the metallic mesh on the 5th avenue entrance of the library. Unlike most common photographic records of this building, here the focus is on the people in the photograph and not on the library, which is relegated to mere scenery. However, by engaging with the façade’s net, they offer a new reading of the building, namely by giving a proper sense of the scale of this massive grid pattern of the façade. In this user’s online photo, as well as those of most other users, the viewer is invited to observe a private moment . This level of personal exposure is now available to everyone, and the boundaries between privacy and publicity become ever more blurred, mostly produced by the new business plan of web2.0 sites where users generate the content. This picture which serves to this specific user as a memento of the time spent at the library with her friend thus becomes another way through which this piece of architecture is mediated and exposed to the larger public.
see fromform’s photographic set of Seattle’s Central Library here
The Library That Puts on Fishnets and Hits the Disco
by Herbert Muschamp, published on May 16, 2004
“Quite apart from its strengths in structure, form and space, the building exemplifies Rem Koolhaas’s reliance on the architectural program: the organization of space according to use and function. Because of the clarity of this example, the Central Library’s impact on architecture could be profound.”
“Aesthetics have entered into the design of the building at the earliest stages of planning, in other words, before the purely visual decisions have been made. It is pointless, with this project, to separate formal and social organization. How people use a space is no less a matter of form than the most abstract visual composition. As such, a building program can be subject to aesthetic articulation. “
check the full version of the original review by the architectural critic of the New York Times here
This textual representation of the Seattle Central Library was written by the architectural critic of the New York Times (at the time), Herbert Muschamp. In this review, not only the specific physical spaces of this building are reviewed (and highly praised), but its conceptual framework is further explained. Moreover, in this article this architectural piece is also positioned in the current architectural discourse, in Seattle’s architectural landscape and in the architect’s conceptual ideas. This textual piece constructs architecture as an exercise beyond physical built space, as a discipline inhabiting several other dimensions. Here, the Seattle Central Library is described in a duality of solitary absorption spaces and crowd scenes arenas, where users become sometimes actors and some others spectators, but ends by arguing that it is in the delicate balance and fusion between these elements that art takes shape. In Muschamp’s praise of this building he also sees the importance of this structure not solely in the dramatic and pragmatic program rearrangement, but in the possibilities opened by it, much like the importance of computers not lying in their capacity for calculation, but in the fact that they enabled new generations of media. Like the computer experience, also this library displays a design based on a creative process and undertaken with the user in mind.
In this example the Seattle Central Library is represented by four 3-D models existing in Google 3-D warehouse, and which can be employed in Google Earth software. In its attempt to map and catalogue most of everything, Google has created a 3-D warehouse to which users can upload their three dimensional representation of virtually anything, from coffee mugs to bridges. These objects find their place in the representational world of Google Earth but also in the smaller pockets of represented world created in the desktops of architects, engineers, and other enthusiasts, which can download and apply them to their own 3-D models. The warehouse serves as a platform where 3-D models are exchanged between users. While there are several intricate objects in the warehouse, the representations of the library are composed by simple slanted exterior planes with a roughly realistic mapping applied and a voided interior. No signs of the human subject exist, and manipulating the view to a human level is an arduous and disappointing task. In this virtual environment the human subject has relinquished its traditional central role to the urban environment and adapted to the position of observer and creator. While it accurately depicts the physical space, this represented world lacks in illustrating the real space of the human subject, the social space.
Published March 8, 2008
Tags: discussion, embodiment, escalator, floor, general audience, human figure, interior, music, narrative, perspective, public, video, web, youtube
Here the Seattle Central Library is the setting for indie-rock band Peaches’s music video. Like the library spaces, the music is also composed of a distinct duality of elements, namely smooth electronica sounds alternated with strong beats combined with the human presence of the vocals. There is a striking proposition in this piece, where the space-time continuity of the action is only allowed in transitory and dynamic spaces like the escalator or the highway, and other static spaces like the meeting room floor, the mixing chamber or the reading are flashed through in rapid succession. Also shown in rapid succession are several different notorious floors of the library, where the presence and stagnation of the human subject is suggested by the immovable image of tennis shoes and trousers while the floors rapidly flicker through. A possible reading to this situation could be, initially, an insinuation to the problematic of the rapid changes of contemporary society to which the human subject must quickly respond and adapt to. The solution seems to lie not in a change of the subject, but in a change of its view, suggested by the zooming out of these views visible in the end of the video.
The video presents another case of a syntagm (narrative) constructed from the paradigm of the SCL. This narrative again emphasizes a singular and subjective point-of-view and an embodied experience of the space. Although we never see his face or hear his voice, we know that our narrator is also our protagonist, as we see, from his point-of-view, his feet, against the various floor textures as he navigates through the space. The soundtrack, the jump cutting, and the reduced frame rate imply a playful, pop-culture subjectivity. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the story that unfolds has nothing to do with books, computers, or librarians. It involves a young woman in a beige trench coat whose face we never see, although we – via the protagonist – follow her. This narrative is a romance with an air of mystery or visa-versa, for which the building is but the setting, or perhaps even a secondary character.
The escalator is the most popular setting for home video (as seen on YouTube) and personal photo (Flickr.com) depictions of the Library.
This might have something to do with the elevator being a modernist-era technology which relates to space and architectures in a very linear, narrative, cinematic way. It moves individuals up through space, freeing their eyes from watching their step, to look out at the passing, ever-changing view. This embodied, cinematic effect is enhanced by the SCL escalator’s glowing chartreuse color which emphasizes one’s movement through a special space, and by the sculptures of Tony Oursler — themselves both cinematic (moving images) and embodied, gazing back at the traveler.
Published March 7, 2008
Tags: discussion, escalator, exterior, general audience, human figure, interior, living room, narrative, perspective, public, reading room, tour, video, web, youtube
This video shows the surprising way the Seattle Central Library can be represented by sign language. Due to the specific nature of the language employed, there is a fragmented conversation between subject and object, as the building and the narrator do not appear simultaneously on screen.
Even though this representation (and sign language itself) uses only the visual medium, it is far from limited. The difference between oral and sign language is comparable to print and digital formats, where one is sequential and linear (print and oral language) and the other has the potential for simultaneous information transmission (digital and sign language). In sign language information can be loaded into several channels and expressed simultaneously, by the specific motion of the hand, body posture and facial expression. This inherent potential of sign language is widely used throughout this tour, as the narrator expresses his views and experiences on the library while guiding the audience through the main public spaces: the living room, the reading room and the long escalator in between.
Following Lev Manovich’s description of a database as both “a structured collection of data” and a collection of “choices from which narrative is constructed” — we can consider the library as the paradigm from which this individual has constructed his personal narrative, his “tour” of the space.
Realizing the innumerable experiential choices that the library presents to any given individual, and also the innumerable choices available in representing an experience of the library with a video camera – it is particularly worth noting that this individual consistently frames himself, not the building, in the foreground and in medium close-up. This narrative’s purpose is not to document the building but to document this fellow’s emphatically embodied experience in and of it.
The personal videos, photos and blog posts, as narratives, stand in stark contrast to the conceptual documents, which concern themselves not with individuals but with operational functions and processes, in which individuals might be supposed to be agents, if supposed at all.