AKA: Seattle Public Library, Central Library #3, Seattle, WA; Seattle Library Downtown Branch #3, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - social and civic buildings - libraries

Designers: Arup, Ove, and Partners (firm); Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners, Structural Engineers (firm); Hoffman Construction Company (firm); Inside / Outside, Landscape Architects (firm); Loschky Marquardt and Nesholm (LMN), Architects (firm); Mau, Bruce, Design Incorporated (firm); Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) (firm); Ove Arup (structural engineer); Cecil Balmond (structural engineer); Petra Blaisse (landscape architect); Jim Brown (architect); Laurence Dewhurst (structural engineer); Lee Hawley Hoffman (building contractor); Adam Hunter (architect); Rem Koolhaas (architect); George Henry Loschky (architect); Timothy Macfarlane (structural engineer); Judsen Robert Marquardt (architect); Bruce Mau (graphic designer); Damien McBride (architect); John Frank Nesholm (architect); Catherine Sue Partridge (architect); Joshua Ramus (architect); Robert Zimmer (architect)

Dates: constructed 2000-2004

11 stories, total floor area: 362,987 sq. ft.

1000 4th Avenue
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98104-1109

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The Seattle Main Public Library was located on the southeast corner of 4th Avenue and Spring Street.


Seattle's three main public libraries have, since 1906, stood at the same site, on the southeast corner of 4th Avenue and Spring Street. The first was a Carnegie-financed effort completed in 1906, the second was paid for by a 1956 city bond issue, and the third from the landmark 1998 "Libraries for All" bond issue that resulted in the construction of this renowned and reviled architectural landmark, completed in 2004. The Seattle Public Library #3 became, through extensive publication, one of the most discussed buildings of the mid-2000s, a staple of architectural history courses of the future. Its form startles the viewer, suggesting a cubist figure struggling inside a potato sack. The building's angular armature defies our conventions about how a building stands and its glazed skin divided into diamond panels does nothing to diminish the frame's dynamism. The glass walls, however, fit Seattle's climate well, providing ample sunlight even during cloudy fall and winter days. The building suffers from a convoluted circulation plan, one that does not make it an easy place within which to work, but for the vistor, the book spiral and other roundabout features add to one's sense of discovery and surprise.

Building History

An ambitious worldwide library design competition occurred in 1999, among five invited firms: Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), Rotterdam, Netherlands; Steven Holl, New York, NY; Norman Foster and Partners, London, UK; Cesar Pelli, New Haven, CT; and Zimmer Gunsul Frasca (ZGF), Portland, OR; finalists were OMA, Steven Holl, and ZGF; OMA awarded the contract in September 1999; OMA Partners-in-Charge: Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Ramus; LMN Partner-in-Charge: John Nesholm; Seattle City Librarian, Deborah Jacobs, collaborated with OMA and LMN closely on the project; Jacobs emphasized a collaborative approach to design, eliciting ideas from the public and staff in frequent meetings; renowned engineer, Cecil Balmond, Chairman of Europe & Building Division at Arup, the huge engineering firm, participated in the engineering work on the building; Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners engineered the glass curtain wall facade; the curtain wall was awarded an American Institute of Architects Washington Chapter 2000 Award; Hoffman Construction Company was the building contractor; subsequent to the building's completion, a dispute arose over cost over-runs between Hoffman Construction and the administration of the Seattle Public Library; Bruce Mau Design Incorporated, Toronto, ON, consulted on the library's signage; Petra Blaisse was the landscape architect; in 1999, the scheduled completion date was 2003, although several factors conspired to delay the opening: asbestos removal from the old library was slow, the construction company experienced excavation problems, a retaining wall on Fifth Avenue needed extra repairs, and delays occurred in the ordering of the steel members forming for the facade; the building actually opened Sunday, 05/23/2004;

Building Notes

Authors of the Urban Land Institute's 2008 book Urban Design and the Bottom Line said of the OMA design for the Seattle Main Library #3: "Called by one architecture critic the most exciting new building he had reviewed in 30 years of writing about architecture, Seattle's central library has become a new icon for the city--on a par with the 1962 Space Needle." (See Dennis Jerke, Douglas R. Porter, Terry J. Lassar, Urban Design and the Bottom Line, [Washington, DC: Urban Land Institute, 2008], pp. 76-77.)

The Seattle Public Library, Main Library #3, occupied the original site where the mammoth McNaught House stood until it was moved to make way in 1904 for Seattle Public Library Main Library #1, finished in 1906. (This Carnegie-financed library was razed in 1957.) The Seattle Public Library Main Library #2 was completed here in 1960, and stood until 2001.

PCAD id: 3151

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