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« Guest Posting from Planet Friedrich | Main | Computer-free »

June 26, 2004

Laughing at Rem

Dear Vanessa --

Don't miss Keith Pleas' visit here to the new Rem Koolhaas Seattle public library. (From pix, the library looks to me like a cyberwarehouse, a camp orgy of translucency, metal grillework, and computer-aided origami -- part Apple Store, part airport, part Edsel.) Keith doesn't seem impressed, to say the least. In one hilarious passage, he's giving some thought to the place's avant-garde signage:

My question is, how readable will any of this signage be with real, live people in front of it? Frankly, I think the design team didn't think beyond how it would look in the photos they're going to have submitted to the architecture and design journals which, naturally, are taken without people messing up the spaces. Oh, and give yourself extra credit if you noticed the shin-high railings along the angled wall and thought "hey, won't people trip on those?"

These aren't the words of someone who's in the thrall of current architectural Theory, that's for sure.

Thanks to David Sucher (here), who pointed Keith's posting out. David himself tours the library today; the blogosphere awaits his verdict. Personally, I'm hoping the NYTimes will fill the architecture-critic position recently vacated by Herbert Muschamp with either David or Keith. The public discussion about architecture -- which seems to me to be in a particularly demented state these days -- could use a heavy dose of David and Keith's brand of intelligent common sense.



posted by Michael at June 26, 2004


Thanks, Michael.

We had a very pleasant and stimulating field trip to the Library this morning (i.e. "we" being a few Seattle-area readers and other assorted friends.) Now I am off to the beach for the rest of the weekend. But I am collecting my thoughts and will post about the library early in the week.

But I can tell you now that my hat is off to Rem Koolhaas as a truly brilliant self-promoter.

Posted by: David Sucher on June 26, 2004 5:01 PM

I visited the new Seattle Public Library the day it opened because my lady friend was up from California and wanted to see it. Of course, it was a mob-scene, so I wasn't able to form an especially clinical opinion of the interior other than that I didn't care for it.

The exterior was easier to deal with since it had been in place for a month or two before the opening.

My take is that this is yet another starchitect ego-trip building. The overall shape is basically the architecture--all else is that strange, diamond-shaped lattice pattern of beams that forms the exterior along with glass and other "spandrel" materials.

The *fundamental problem* in my judgment is that the design is LAZY AND UNIMAGINATIVE. Given the space and other constraints, why the odd orgami-looking shape? Why not something with voids as well as solids? And why the unrelenting lattice pattern? Why not something else to provide contrast and emphasis? For this Koolhaas' firm gets millions of dollars? The guy seems to be a world-class con-artist.

In contrast is an article by The Seattle Times' editorial columnist Susan Byrnes that was posted 25 May 2004. The link might be bad, so I'll copy a few of her observations below. (The "peg" of the article is Deborah Jacobs, the head librarian, and references are to her and not Koolhaas directly.)

"If someone told me a decade ago that Seattle was going to build a new library that would draw worldwide acclaim for its breathtaking genius, I wouldn't have believed it...."

"[Without Jacobs] it never would've been so smart, so soaring and so utterly fitting of its purpose and its place."

I don't take either of the Seattle papers, but my understanding is that the above quotes are typical of a firehose of unrelenting gush and cheerleading printed before, during, and in the aftermath of the opening. Just maybe, down really deep, the media gang realises what a turkey the city got. Perhaps that explains the overkill.

Over to you, David.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on June 26, 2004 9:01 PM

Come vote on the SCL - in the words of Christopher Alexander, "Which has more life?"

Posted by: Rob Asumendi on July 1, 2004 12:34 PM

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