Ann Hamilton - LEW

Materials: maple floorboard, 7200 sq ft

Designed and built during a time of enormous technological development, the form and facilities of The Seattle Public Library reflect ways in which digital technologies are changing a reader’s relationship to a page of text, to the book as object, to the book as a purveyor of information, and to the library as an institution and system of access to print culture.  This project, the 7200 square foot wood floor in the LEW (Literacy, ESL/English as a Second Language and World Languages) Collection, seeks to mark this moment of technological transition by imbedding in the membrane of the library's surface work that in texture and form remembers and evokes a tactile experience of book production and reading.

Ann Hamilton -LEW


The wood floor consists of 556 lines of maple floorboard routed to make a walk-able surface of relief letterforms.  Like a bed of moveable metal or wood type laid in preparation for printing, the letterforms in the floor are inverted.  While this inversion makes an overt reference to a historical printing technique, its orientation, which creates the experience of reading backwards also demonstrates the experience of learning to read as a process wherein abstract symbols become, in time, transparent and meaningful words and sentences.  As a continuous tactile field, the floor of text contains running lines from the 11 languages which currently form the largest and most frequently used areas of the LEW Collection: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese.  These lines are a collection of 1543 first sentences gathered by patrons and librarians from books in The Seattle Public Library Fiction and LEW Collection.  Fiction and Non-fiction, Poetry and Musical Lyrics are the dominant textual sources. First lines may not be the most notable line of a book, but after the cover, they are a universal portal to an immersion in a book’s interior world. Thus the floor as an oceanic physical surround amplifies the immersive experience of reading a page to become an architectural field for the ongoing experience and activities of the library patron.

Ann Hamilton -LEW

Photo credit: Carmen Montoya

Architecture: OMA - Rem Koolhaas, Joshua Ramus | LMN - John Nesholm, Sam Miller
Project management: Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, City of Seattle - Barbara Goldstein
Construction management: Hoffman Construction Company of Washington - Bob Vincent, Dale Stenning
Development management: Seneca Group - Bart L. Heath
Studio project management: Sebastian Stiess
Production: Color Text, Inc. Columbus, Ohio - Mike Neidig | American Elegance Hardwood Floors - Dustin Icenhour
Installation: Rubenstein's Contract Carpet - S. Paul Singh

For a complete list of those who made the LEW wood floor possible, click here.