Seattle's most elegant ash tray

A modern work of art is a repository for smokers' discards.

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George Tsutakawa's Fountain of Wisdom

A modern work of art is a repository for smokers' discards.

People generally love the downtown Rem Koolhaas library, but it's less than perfect: slow elevators, confusing layout, poor signage. It looks great, and some parts are great, but other features leave much to be desired (and some think we could have done better). One is the treatment of George Tsutakawa's Fountain of Wisdom.

Brian Miller at Seattle Weekly has waxed wistful about it. Even though the fountain, originally commissioned for the Central branch's International Style predecessor, now sits on a prime spot at 4th and Madison near the library entrance, it feels like an orphan. The mid-century modern (1957-60) fountain embodies a kind of elegant Asian-Northwest minimalism. But today, it is completely overwhelmed by Koolhaas's zig-zaggy box. Inspired by Japanese rock cairns, the fountain is dwarfed and has lost its position, message and context. Miller says it deserves a plaque, and he likes the fact that it's a kind of Northwest Jetson's era abstract survivor that stands as a counterpoint to Koolhaas cool.

Okay, but how can it get its dignity back? The orphan is showing signs of neglect. I was there the other day and the water was off. Worse, its location outside the front door means that it's adjacent to smokers and has become the repository of last resort for smokers who need to discard their smokes before they enter. The dry fountain basin, which should be a pretty pool of water, has scores of cigarette butts in it. In effect, Tsutakawa's beautiful public fountain has become a public ash tray. Ugh.

This orphan deserves much better.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.