A Commons with Uncommon Style


A view over the park reveals the mix of uses. In the middle of the view the library is visible over the public square. To the left is the lawn and to the right is the skate bowl.

The Ballard Commons Park opened in 2005 as the new civic center of Ballard’s business district. Ballard is a neighborhood in northern Seattle, centered on Shilshole Bay and the Lake Washington Ship Channel. The neighborhood is dominated by single family residences with its major business district on Market Street, which forms the neighborhood’s southern edge.

The Ballard Commons houses a wonderful mix of spaces. A public square has abundant seating for adults, while sea life inspired sculptures serve as a nice anchor for the plaza. These sculptures also act as water play features in summer. The rest of the park is taken up by a lawn and skate bowl.

A range of establishments ring the park. A tall apartment building protects the park from harsh western sun in the afternoon. To the east, the Ballard Public Library attracts a stream of neighborhood residents, and its short stature allows a flood of morning light to enter the park. Finally, a homeless health clinic and businesses round out the mix of establishments around the park.

This mix of spaces and establishments draws a wide range of visitors. There is a homeless population in the park. At the same time a stream of families, couples and singles flow through the space. Library patrons enjoy books on the park’s benches. Families play fetch with their dogs. Teens and adults ride skate boards up and down the skate bowl’s walls. This creates a vibrant atmosphere that is not dominated by a single group.

The Ballard Commons is a fun and enjoyable park. It achieves what every small neighborhood park should strive for. It provides a space for every resident. It is activated by the mix of civic and private ventures around it. Most importantly, the Ballard Commons does not take its self too seriously, either as an artist statement or a utilitarian space. The result is a park that is functional, fun and attractive.

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Want to learn more about the Ballard Commons? Visit this blog on Seattle City Parks.

A sculpture of a sea snail shell.



European Cool, Meets Seattle Intellect

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The cuboid suspended above the reading room houses the Seattle Public Library Headquarters. The entire structure is wrapped in four foot square sheets of rip proof nylon designed to absorb sound in the reading room. Below this is the Seattle Room, which houses the library’s Seattle focused special collection, including government records, yearbooks, photos, art and other artifacts.

Have you been to the space needle, seen the flying fish at Pike Place Market and wondering what else there is to see in downtown Seattle. How about a visit to Seattle’s other worldly Central Library. The Seattle Central Library is located on the block bordered by Spring Street, Fourth Avenue, Madison Street, and Fifth Avenue.

The Central Library was designed by the Dutch Architect Rem Koolhause’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture in collaboration with Seattle’s LMN Architects. The building looks like a house of cards ready to fall at any moment. However, the building’s cantilevered spans are supported by a sophisticated system of angled columns.

Both sketches present dramatic looks at these angled columns. The living room sketch offers a stunning view up a column as it ascends three stores to hold up the library book spiral platform. While the reading room columns are more understated, we can still see the unique support structure that holds up the Central Library.

The first sketch is of my favorite room in the building, the Betty Jane Narver Reading Room. The room is located at the top of the library, above the activity of the library’s lower areas. The room has space for 400 patrons with a stunning view over the bustle of the city below. The room’s soaring ceiling was inspired by the cathedral like reading rooms of 19th century library design.

The last sketch is off the Living Room. The Living Room can be accessed off of 5th Avenue and serves as an indoor public space. There is a coffee cart operated by local chocolate maker Chocolati, which serves coffee and pastries. The Friends of the Seattle Public Libraries also operates a gift booth in this space, selling art by local artists. All proceeds from this booth support the Seattle Public Libraries.

The platform above the Living Room houses the Meeting Level and Mixing Room. The Meeting Level houses four rooms for community meetings and events as well as computer labs. The Mixing Room houses the library’s central reference desk and main computer area. Continuing past the Mixing Room, the library’s book spiral forms the Living Room’s roof and houses the library’s non-fiction collection.

A 6 block long ramp runs up the non-fiction collection beginning with 0 on the Dewey Decimal System at the bottom. The book spiral ends on a platform cantilevered over the library’s atrium, which allows daylight to flow down to the Living Room. This platform is the highest public point in the library and gives visitors a view over downtown Seattle and straight down to the Living Room’s floor six stories below.

A majority of the Living Room’s space is taken up by seating for reading and computer use. The Living Room also houses the library’s periodical section and collections of recreational reading materials, including science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, fiction, westerns, romance, audio books, and graphic novels.


To learn more about the Seattle Central Library visit here

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