Seen as a paragon of public infrastructure in architecture schools across the land, the downtown Seattle Public Library is a curtain wall sheathed monument to the 21st century USian reader. The thing is, the bar set by said same reader has never been lower.i As a result, the navel-gazing cattle (ie. the “All” in the Seattle Public Library Foundation’s “Libraries for All” initiative) and their contemporary interpretation of a literary tradition they never really enjoyed at scale anywhere but in their collective imaginations, are making a muck of the urban landscape.ii
Seattle’s Central Library was designed by Rem Koolhaas and completed in 2004. Since then, it has received countless awards for its publicness, but what about its librariness ? Doesn’t that count for something anymore ?iii It features a polished mirror finish atop visually unsettling and oddly proportioned, if distinctively geometric, forms. But what about this inspires the next generation of learners and thinkers ?
The interior reveals the deeper societal issue facing Americans, one perfectly reflected in the glassy facades : they don’t want to actually crack a book, read it, digest it, grow, or explore the boundaries of the known world, they want to feel like they are – just like they want to feel like traders and online influencers regardless of whether such a thing ever manifests. Preferably while taking a selfie on Instasnap and drinking a Starbucks Unicorniccino.
Notice how few bookshelves there are ??! Long gone are the days of the Everyman’s Library and of basic education, forlorn are we for the cosseting embrace of wall-to-wall shelves lined with tome upon tome of literary masterpiece, philosophical inquest, and legendary tales of faraway lands. Today’s libraries serve a new purposes : to satiate the unyielding narcissism of the Post-Great (PG) generation.
Not only are PGers obsessed with fairness – for all its poverty of spirit and artistic iniquity – but so too are they fixated on signal over substance. So utterly detached and removed is the American “economy” from its productively protestant roots that there’s quite frankly little other choice. To address the Chinese locomotive head-on would be to pit soft tender moo-hide against the cold steel of the cow catcher, with predictable results. This subconscious calculus having been derivated by both parties a generation ago, the CNiv locomotive continues steaming along unfettered by rail hazards, never hardly noticing the few waste products of its uber-industrial-make-work machine falling off along the way. This arrangement certainly keeps the trackside cattle happy, even if this is a distantly
secondary tertiary quaternary consideration to that of full national employment.v Lest we forget the People’s Party mandate!
Still, keen to emulate its neighbours to the south, this bibliodestructive phenomenon isn’t unique to Seattle – this is happening in my very own backyard as we speak. The grandly brutalist Stanley A. Milner library in downtown Edmonton, which was just starting to come into its own architecturally, the broadly unpopular precast concrete aesthetic finally starting to gain converts after half-a-century of grumblings, is being stripped to its bones and “reimagined.”
Cast aside is the precast in favour of floor-to-ceiling glazing (the better to blind you with, my dear!) and today’s budget-oriented equivalent of pre-cast : aluminum siding. This new design, more in line with the AGAvi and Giant Yud, is expected to open its doors in 2020.
That’s all well and good, really, it’s just that PG libraries aren’t really libraries anymore. Today, you either have one at home or you don’t have one at all.
Who would’ve thought that the world of 2017 would be so much like that of 1417 ?vii
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- Just look at the televisioninsation of the Internet. The lowest common denominator can point at shiny things and smile or frown, but polysyllabic words ? Not so much. ↩
- Not that any people ever did or could achieve actual literacy at scale. It’s biologically impossible, even in Switzerland, but the Americans take special pride in their No Child Left Behind nonsense so it’s them that we’ll pick apart, sinew from bone. ↩
- Or is this one of those gender-utility-identity questions that “the people” leaves up to “the individual” to decide, as if they could decide their own eye colour ? “I’ll tell you what blue eyes look like!!” Hurr. ↩
- Not to be confused with the Canadian National, mind. ↩
- Did you know that no small percentage of Chinese regional highways are repaved annually ? Compare this with the dilapidated infrastructure Stateside, which is rapidly regressing towards gravel roads. ↩
- Art Gallery of Alberta : the City’s premier wedding venue. Or so I hear. ↩
- Well, if nothing else, The Most Serene Republic flags should’ve tipped you off.↩