Beacon Hill Library: the “Heart of Darkness”?

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?

16 thoughts on “Beacon Hill Library: the “Heart of Darkness”?”

  1. It is free, well stocked with material the patrons want, need and use in languages they are comfortable with. The staff is exceedingly friendly and helpful and programs serve all our neighbors. As someone who suffered the “station” on 15th for years and had to beg rides to the Columbia City “branch” for homework in the 60’s, I say our library is a dream. Get over the outside, Mom said it’s what’s inside that counts. And she was right.

  2. I don’t know anything about architecture, and how it represents multiculturalism or the powerlessness of immigrants. All I know is whether I respond to the aesthetics of a building or not. And, to me, the Beacon Hill library definitely adds something to the neighborhood. I find it to be an attractive building on the block. In fact, to my untrained eye, I feel like it is a good representation of an architectural style that seems prevalent in Seattle. That is, the building looks very “Seattle” to me. I think it adds something to the neighborhood. And, I think it’s irritating that the author chose to use his forum to bash a neighborhood building instead of speaking to the growth of the neighborhood. So many Seattlites have never even BEEN to Beacon Hill, and this certainly won’t drive them here to check out the great restaurants opening or the amazing park the neighborhood has. If the author wanted to complain about something he should have written about Beacon Mountain being closed for the last 6 months, after being open for only a couple short months.

  3. An opinion is just that and that is his… I don’t agree. I quite like the look of building. It is interesting to look at, like the downtown building. Thankfully much more aproachable than the downtown building.

  4. And another thing does he even live in the area? If not he should use the platform he has and use it to do something positive rather than complain about the architecture.

  5. I think Charles Mudede should find another profession. His writing blows and shames all minorities with its ignorance.

  6. Mudede is lucky to have a job at the Stranger rag, who indulges in sex advertisements and an “expert” sex advisor
    Of course the Stranger is popular for it’s “entertainment” value,and no credible news. Which includes Mudede’s also “expert” opinion on our beautiful Beacon Hill Library that contributes so much to our community.

  7. What christina said. My first thought when I read the post was whether Mr. Mudede had ever been in the previous building on 15th and Beacon. Of course, I probably would have squawked even if he had dissed THAT building. The Beacon Hill branch is MY library and I’ve loved it regardless of the architecture.

  8. I’ve been totally bemused by Mudede’s comments. And I can’t resist saying you can’t tell a book by its cover! The library is soooooo much better than the barely room to turn around old one. It’s always being used and I love walking by the children’s section during story time. Coming from Chicago and its much vaunted architecture, I think our library is a wild mix, just like Beacon Hill.

  9. No surprise that a journalist from The Stranger would make an insulting shock-value statement just to get attention. Sounds like many of their articles. They (not Mudede) may have won a Pulitzer but they’re still endlessly juvenile. The BH library rocks. What is this, “neighborhood wars”? In next week’s issue, “My library can beat your library up”.

  10. The library is a beautiful, inspiring building. If anything, I wish it was larger and had a bigger parking lot. Mudede is a nice guy in person but doesn’t seem grateful for the good things in the city. I do think multiculturalism is out of control in this city. If anything, shouldn’t the library reflect the Italian American heritage of Beacon Hill?

  11. I design buildings and I find his writing ridiculous. Architecture is not critiqued that way, I don’t know what he is talking about. He should find another target that he knows something about, you have to write about what you know. Brett

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