Seattle Central Library

  • 363,000ft2 library with 49,000ft2 underground parking garage.
  • Capacity for 1.45m books – four-storey 'books spiral' displays volumes in continuous run.
  • Received LEED® Silver rating from US Green Building Council.


The Seattle Central Library opened in 2004 to great civic pride and universal critical acclaim. It has been described as the embodiment of a new library for the 21st century.

The design team’s challenges included maximising public space without the use of visually impairing pillars, strengthening the external structure for seismic resistance and support, and doing both in a sustainable manner. 

For the exterior, designers developed a diagonal grid system of insulated glass on a steel structure that provides great stiffness to resist lateral forces. Approximately half of the panes are triple-layered glass with a metal mesh sandwiched between two outer glass layers. The mesh reduces both heat and glare.

The library was designed to out perform Seattle’s energy code by 10%. To accomplish this, Arup used computer modelling and CFD analysis to investigate energy-efficient building systems.

Among its additional sustainable features are water-efficient mechanical systems, including irrigation via a rainwater collection tank, environmentally-minded ventilation and fire suppression systems and extensive use of recycled material for construction.

The library received a Silver rating from the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) programme.

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  • Exterior of Seattle Central Library. Credit Christian Richter.Open gallery

    The exterior of the library is an innovative diagonal grid structure that provides resistance to lateral forces.