Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Raise The Roof!

In case you haven't noticed, Seattle libraries have undergone a makeover in the past few years. You can thank Seattle voters for these upgrades, when the "Libraries for All" bond measure passed in 1998. Which somewhat restores my faith in the initiative process, given that citizens have passed six measures sponsored by Tim Eyman and...I don't even want to talk about the monorail debacle.

With a lean towards user-centered design, energy savings and sustainability, the new libraries are very stylish. SPL's Central Branch has become one of the city's top attractions due to its unique architectural features - large criss-crossed windows, glowing neon escalators, an entirely red floor, the spiral stacks, modern art installations, and a spectacular view from the 10th floor. Not to mention over a million items spread over 362,987 square feet. But can you guess which branch is the second-largest in the SPL system? Technically, it's the Douglass-Truth branch, which re-opened in 2006 to cover 16,493 square feet.

However, I'm obliged to give the nod in square footage to the Ballard branch. The library has 15,000 square feet, but the building also includes a 3,100-square-foot Neighborhood Service Center. And on top of it all (no pun intended) is a "green" roof that helps insulate the building (keeping it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter). Four inches of soil are stacked upon a layer of coconut fiber and the roof is home to 16 plant varieties. One benefit of the Northwest climate: these plants rarely need to be watered. Scattered throughout the vegetation are several dome-shaped skylights, which provide natural sunlight and reduce electricity costs. And what green roof is not complete without solar panels? I didn't ask how much energy they supply. I suppose it depends on the cloud cover.

When I toured the library last Saturday, the grass had been cut extremely short and it was mostly brown. Not the lush green roof I imagined before my visit, but I realize its function is not to impress visitors. The inside of the library feels very spacious due to the high slanted ceiling. It is loosely divided into different sections: a reading area (located next to computer desks), a quiet area (surrounded by glass walls), a teen area, a children's area, two study rooms, and a conference room. Hanging from the ceiling are four LED monitors - art pieces that light up due to weather instrument readings on the green roof. Outside the library are chairs that were cut and bent from a single piece of metal.

If the architecture looks familiar, you've probably seen other creations of Bohlin, Cywinski, Jackson in the Seattle area. The architecture firm is responsible for the design of Seattle City Hall, the UW School of Fisheries, and the Issaquah Public Library. Even Bill Gates' house in Medina was partially designed by BSJ. Ironic, considering that the firm used Macintosh software to map out blueprints, and it has also designed 10 Apple stores around the world.

Tours of the Ballard Public Library are available every Saturday starting at 10:30 am. Check it out. Or better yet, check out a movie from the sizable DVD collection.

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