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Emerald Cities' Cultural Icons:

Seattle's NEW Library
v.
Sydney's Opera House

Rival claims by Sydney (Australia) and Seattle (US) to be called The Emerald City have intensified with the opening of the superb new Seattle Central Library, "a spectacular, if a little odd, soaring glass-and-steel structure" fit to be compared with Sydney's famous Opera House ("eighth wonder of the world.")

"Architectural critics are running out of superlatives for the dazzling polygonal library, calling it the most exciting, most important and most exhilarating building they have seen in years," the Seattle Times enthused on May 23.

Just as Sydney employed a talented Danish architect, Jørn Utzon, to design its Opera House, Seattle also looked to Europe, to secure the services of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas to design its library.

"The new Central Library is a brilliant blend of old-fashioned ink on paper and the latest technology," said the Seattle Times. "It has 400 public computers; the old library had 70. Librarians are wired for easy communication anywhere in the building.

"Architectural critics are running out of superlatives for the dazzling polygonal library, calling it the most exciting, most important and most exhilarating building they have seen in years."

By a strange coincidence, both the library and the opera house were reported at the time of their opening to have cost about $160 million to build, although the 30-year-old Sydney figure would be much higher if adjusted to today's dollars.

"Sydney Opera House is one of the architectural wonders of the world, perhaps the best known building of the 20th century with its design and construction involving countless innovative design ideas and construction techniques". So says its official website.

Opened 30 years ago, it cost $A160 million to build and was paid for by the public who bought $10 tickets in a series of lotteries with a first prize of $1 million.

In 2001, the NSW Government provided $69.3 million for several projects to improve the facilities and environment for performing arts companies, patrons and visitors.

"As time passes and needs change, it is natural to modify the building to suit the needs and technique of the day," architect Jørn Utzon (who is now 86) said in 2000.

Utzon agreed to be the Director-in-Charge, Master Architect and Concept Designer for the modifications He is being assisted by his Denmark-based architect son, Jan, and leading Australian architect Richard Johnson of Johnson Pillton Walker.

The projects, which will take five years to complete, include the Reception Hall, Western Loggia, Concert Hall and Opera Theatre.

Wordsmith Anu Garg, mastermind of the free newsletter A Word A Day, visited the Seattle City Library with his wife and young daughter on opening day. "It's futuristic, and it looks exciting," he told us in an email. "But in essence, a library is about books. While the area surrounding them is important, it's the books rather than looks that really count. At any rate, I feel a bit proud of it. I know our decision to move to Seattle [from Columbus, Ohio last year] was right."

We couldn't help wondering if the Seattle Times' editorialist had Sydney in mind when writing, a trifle smugly, "Seattle is not like other cities, content to build only sports stadiums and concert halls. At our core we are a city of book lovers who clamor for a gathering place to read, do research and while away a rainy afternoon."

  • You can read our earlier story, SEATTLE AND SYDNEY ARE EMERALD CITIES, by clicking HERE.
     
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Story first posted June 2004

Copyright © 2004

Eric Shackle

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