Revisiting the Capitol Hill and South Park Libraries


The Seattle Public Library (SPL) system was just rated one of only five Five Star library systems in the country by the Library Journal’s 2014 Index of Public Library Service. The rating system evaluates libraries based on circulation per capita, number of visits, program attendance, computer use, and many other factors. The Library Journal celebrates the architecture of libraries which support and enhance activities and encourage frequent visits. The design of the facility plays a huge role in the effectiveness of the system. This inspired us to revisit two libraries that JA designed for the SPL system.

seattle public library system capitol hill branch

First up is the Capitol Hill branch designed in collaboration with James Cutler. The building is at the intersection of multi-family and commercial zones on Capitol Hill. The façade incorporates urban elements such as brick and glass with the living touch of planted trellises. The interior has both lively public spaces as well as calm space for quiet reading. At the opening in 2003 librarians and patrons described it as “light and airy with high ceilings, skylights, a south-facing glass wall and inspiring northeast corner book tower… a place where you want to curl up with a book and stay while”.

seattle public library system south park branch

Another great JA designed library in the SPL system is the South Park Branch. The library is a meeting place and focal point for a vibrant, diverse neighborhood. The outer courtyard creates an active “front porch” for South Park. The spirit of the neighborhood is reflected in lively materials such as brilliant red stucco and raw cedar paneling. This project was particularly rewarding because the community waited 98 years to get a permanent library. The branch describes its beloved library saying, “The rotating illuminated artwork responds to and engages a dynamic community, while the library’s subtle and clean design serves as a beacon for a neighborhood with a simple, no nonsense outlook on life.” We enjoyed the collaborative process and were honored to deliver a facility that has had high levels of visits and engagement since it opened in 2006.