Posts Tagged 'text'

NY Times review

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.

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rhetoric: the OMA Proposal / Concept Book

OMA’s Proposal for the Seattle Central Library weaves a tale in which OMA intends to “redefine / reinvent the Library as an institution no longer exclusively dedicated to the book but as an information store, where all media — new and old — are presented under a regime of new equalities.”

This is the happy ending they propose to the dire tale they begin which imagines that the Library considers itself, like the Prison, one of the “last moral universes” whose reactionary morality is connected to the book, which it protects, like a fortress.

The Library stands exposed at its most outdated and moralistic at the moment that it has become the last repository of the free and the Public.

Libraries housing books are associated with fortresses, prisons and morality – all constricting, which the Electronic and information are public and “free” (apparently even from morality) — this is distinctly rhetoric of the “information revolution” and “information doxa” Andrew Liu identifies and associates with post-industrialist corporate culture.

The Public, refers to the library’s “Social Role,” which, we see via a graphic (p. 18), refers to public service programs such as adult education, art exhibits, remote access, library war service program, to which the Library has “not yet adjusted.” The Library is likened “a host organism overwhelmed by its parasites.”

The key to OMA’s design, or what Manovich might call their algorithm, is the transposition of books to programs, as revealed in the color-bar chart which is the heart of their visualization of the new Library. In this way, they reclassify the library from book-oriented subject areas, to areas of grouped “programs.” They are shifting the model of the Library from a database of material books, to a database of both actual and virtual materials.

The virtual can become the distributed presence of the new Seattle Public Library that users find confirmed in its actual site in the city.

Note the word “user” instead of “patron” to denote a person who would visit in this new Library. As the rhetoric of the entire proposal describes the Library in terms of functionality, organization, and grouped programs (algorithms); it is not surprising that there is no indication of narrative or human subjectivity. Humans are not the subjects of this proposed structure, nor are books. The Library itself — its identity — is the subject. There is no acknowledgement that this identity exists only in human perception.

In contrast, Frank Gehry discussing the Walt Disney Concert Hall:

… I hope that when people attend concerts in the hall, their eyes will wander through the shapes of the building and find that what they see harmonizes…

The entire building was designed from the inside out and was meant to invite people to come inside.

Both of these statements imply narrative, human, experiences of the space as seen through the embodied vision of human eyes.

It may be going too far to claim that the database aesthetic expressed by the Seattle Central Library is anti-humanist (or post-humanist), but the shift in emphasis away from subjectivity to information system might account for many of the complaints about the “arrogance” of the Library and the impression it doesn’t cater to its patrons. (See blog post of visiting librarian).

The only images in the Proposal that posit actual human bodies are purely conceptual collages that do not pretend to represent the planned space of the Library. The collages merely express a pop-culture attitude. The humans are decorative.

[See also SCL as Database]

blog post: librarian.net

Posted in libraries | Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

My Trip to Seattle

I was in Seattle over the weekend. Sorry I didn’t call you…. The one thing on my to do list was to see the new library…. I had really liked the old library — though I understood why it needed updating — and I even liked the temporary library. I can’t say the same for the new library…. (view the complete blog post)

This textual representation of the Seattle Central Library was written by a notorious library consultant in Vermont and blogger, Jessamyn West. In this blog post West casts an overall negative review of the library and its architecture, despite appreciating the new organization and system of the library and some interesting spaces in the building. In particular this Seattle-ite is disappointed in the building which appears to her to have “been built for a bookless future,” and which she found physically difficult to navigate and uncomfortable to occupy. She has some very precise complaints illustrated and punctuated by her sardonic Flickr photo album. All in all she expresses the general complaint voiced in other popular-discourse blogs: that the library is not designed for its patrons.

Also of note, she claims that the current writers’ room is but a shadow of “glorious” writers’ room in the previous building. A testament to the death — or utter redundancy — of the author in the database age?