Editorial: Beacon Hill branch library a stunner

When the new Beacon Hill branch library opens at noon Saturday, the hill will have a stunning new building to be proud of.

The design evolved with public input, which included the siting of the building itself. The swept-roof structure hits just the right note where it nestles unobtrusively into the neighborhood at 2821 Beacon Ave. S.

The design is beautiful and respectful and reflective of the Beacon Hill community.

Those involved with the design have spoken of its interplay of natural light and materials, a concept that borrows from churches and cathedrals.

That sense of timeless aesthetics, even awe, is at home in this ultra-modern setting. We can think of no better environment for expanding one's range of knowledge.

"The limits of my language are the limits of my world," the philosopher Emil Wittgenstein once wrote. The new library will doubtless serve to inspire young readers and perhaps provide a safe harbor from the relentless bombardments of popular culture. More than 2,000 new children's books have been added to the branch library collection.

All of this is the fruit of the $196.4 million "Libraries for All" bond measure that has launched similar projects around the city. Can anyone doubt the wisdom of that 1998 vote?

At 10,800 square feet, the new site has more than tripled the old library space once housed in a converted retail store built in 1927.

A glance up at the wooden, curved-beam ceilings, or the touch and feel of the sandstone used on the front counter, (Tenino sandstone, in fact, where much of Pioneer Square's building materials were quarried), or the generous flood of daylight, speaks to a community vision in which the designers and architects really listened.

There are wonderfully functional touches - 24 new computers and 24 parking spaces - and some touches that are charmingly provocative.

The decision to situate seasonal haiku on four outside stones was inspired. Craig Thompson's haiku, evoking autumn, contains all the energy and grace of the library itself: "Leaves race along streets/ like children rushing to school,/ pages to a book."

The attention paid to the community's ethnic make-up is also inspired. With music and DVD's from other cultures now so readily available, a kind of community based, cultural cross-pollination is possible.

There is much to celebrate starting at noon on Saturday. Beacon Hill is clearly the winner. A deep bow to all of those involved.

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