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Beacon Hill Library: the “Heart of Darkness”?

April 19th, 2013 at 5:37 am | Posted by Wendi Dunlap

The earth-toned slate shingles on the exterior of the Beacon Hill Library stand out against a blue summer sky. The “whale” shape on the wall is a kinetic artwork; when there is rain, the mouth of the whale opens and drains water to the ground. Photo by go-team in the Beacon Hill Blog photo pool on Flickr.

Charles Mudede of The Stranger has a particular dislike for the Beacon Hill Library building. In a series of posts over the last few weeks to Slog, Mudede has called the library branch “a mess,” less artistic than “the cracks on the road,”, and an ugly expression of “phony multiculturalism.”

In this week’s Stranger, Mudede takes his complaints to print, in “I Hate the Beacon Hill Library, and You Should Too: A Journey to Seattle’s Heart of Darkness“:

“What was this really about? The fact that Beacon Hill is diverse, and the conflicting fact that the power structures in Seattle are not. These two facts generate tension. So it is not implausible that the white architects Donald Carlson, Mark Withrow, and Jim Hanford attempted to resolve it by designing a building that’s all over the place, that has a little of everything, that has no center, no gravity, that is restless, bold, and creative, like powerless immigrants. The exact same thing that’s wrong with the Beacon Hill Branch is wrong with City Hall, which was designed by Peter Bohlin, the man behind Bill Gates’s high-tech Xanadu. Both are cut from the same bad intention: inspired multiculturalism. It’s architecture trying to heal. Architecture as a hospital for social ills.”

Mudede goes on to compare the branch’s ship-like structure to “the inside of an old cargo ship,” specifically, the hull of a slave ship.

As with the previous Slog posts about the library, this article triggered some pretty strong discussion in the comments, but commenter JF wins the prize: “When old enough to date, I hope Mudede’s daughter walks into the living room one evening and says ‘Dad, I want you to meet my boyfriend’ as the Beacon Hill library reaches out to shake Charles’ hand.”

What do you think? Does Charles Mudede have a point? Is the Beacon Hill Library an awkward, patronizing example of quirkiness trying to be multiculturalism? Or is it an interesting and well-designed building that both serves the community and reflects the character of North Beacon Hill? Or something else entirely?

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