We started by wondering: “What is the future of the library in the home of Microsoft?”
We knew we had to hit two moving targets: the explosion of media and information; and expanding civic roles for libraries. Our creative breakthrough came from something City Librarian Deborah Jacobs said about libraries: that they are not just depositories of books,
but cornerstones of democracy. True democracy – based upon the informed consent of the governed – cannot exist without full free and public access to knowledge.
Working with architect Rem Koolhaas and Seattle-based LMN Architects, we applied this principle to every aspect of the creation of this new public space – including the actual design process. All major decisions were conducted with total transparency, with open meetings and televised presentations where input was sought from the public.
Our design was integrated seamlessly into the architecture of the building, including playful supergraphics and title walls, a glass wall for the children’s area and a sandblasted wordmark overlooking the plaza outside. For the “Spiral” (Collections Area), made up of garage-like ramps, we devised flexible “stack mats” made from die-cut rubber that could be picked up and moved to accommodate expanding collections. Instead of increasing shelf space for reading, listening and viewing materials, we used digital storage technology to free up human space where visitors could interact with both cultural knowledge and each other.
When it opened for the public in 2004 New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp called the library the greatest new building he'd ever had the pleasure of reviewing.