Brief thoughts on two cities today…
First, Seattle. If you go – and you are even remotely interested in music – you must see the Experience Music Project.
The EMP sits at the foot of the Space Needle and the end of the Monorail line on the old Seattle World’s Fair grounds. It was – according to The Lonely Planet – “..inspired by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s passion for Jimi Hendrix’s music and was initially intended as a tribute to Hendrix alone.” (The mind boggles at the thought of a teenaged Allen and Bill Gates sitting in Bill’s mom’s basement with the black light shining on the posters on the walls, groovin’ to “Hey Joe, where ya goin’ with that gun in your hand…”)
Anyway, it has become much more than that – although the Hendrix exhibit is pretty noteworthy. The EMP now boasts something in excess of eighty thousand music artifacts, but worth the price of admission alone is the Nirvana exhibit. It’s a serious piece of music history – very well done – which, while focusing on Nirvana, manages to fit the band into the larger context of the rise of alt.rock that began underground several years earlier. Nirvana was the band that happened to be in the right place at the right time – obviously with the right sound – to break the music through to the mainstream.One other thing about Seattle which really impressed me was its main public library. It is style and substance: a ten-storey glass and steel sculpture – and again, Lonely Planet nails its description – “…sort of like when that sexy librarian finally takes her spectacles off.” But within those stunning walls are not only several floors of books, but also a 12 thousand square foot reading room with a 40-foot glass ceiling on the top floor; a rare book collection; map room; writer’s rooms; a huge foreign-language study section; and 132 research computers, one of which was not being used when Martha and I were walking through. The library itself has seating for four hundred people, and as you might expect from a building made of glass and steel, it has great light. You might say, “Well, sure, you need that in a place like Seattle where it’s always cloudy and raining.” True, but it’s been raining a lot more in Calgary since we got back than it did in Seattle.
I bring this up because of the story in Friday’s Herald – accompanied by an architect’s rendering of yet another squat, rectangular building that could be a shopping mall – about the Calgary Public Library conducting a public survey to find out what Calgarians want in a new downtown library.
After we toured the Seattle Public Library, Martha and I looked at each other and said, “Why haven’t we got a downtown library that like that – one that makes a statement and that works as a true community gathering place?”
The Seattle library was built eight years ago at a cost of 165 million dollars. City Council has approved $175 million for the new Calgary downtown library. So something bold and innovative is within the realm of plausibility, and I would suggest we don’t even need to do it all with tax dollars.
Here’s the thing: one of every two Calgarians has a library card. Calgary is – if not the heaviest – one of the heaviest user populations of its public library system anywhere in the world. If we put forward the kind of breathtakingly bold and purposeful design demonstrated by the Seattle Public Library, I bet plenty of Calgarians with deep pockets would be prepared to contribute to a capital campaign for a legacy project that they knew would get tremendous public use. You can do the survey online here.