As the City of Seattle continues to experience explosive growth—and displacement that goes along with it—a disused snippet of land on a major thoroughfare in the Central District neighborhood has become a proving ground for the potential of community-driven design. Atop the small plot is now a micro structure, a neon sign proudly announcing the new location of a significant gathering space within the city: Estelita’s Library.
Since being founded in 2018 by Edwin Lindo in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, the justice-focused library has provided free access to more than 1,500 books—a catalogue that features works by Audre Lorde, Malcolm X, and Howard Zinn, along with Lindo’s collection of Black Panther newspapers, one of the largest in the country.
After Lindo learned their building was slated for demolition to make way for high-rise apartments, he partnered with Tiny Cultural Spaces, a pioneering City program launched in 2018 that matches deserving cultural groups with unused, city-owned land.
"The program takes invisible and overlooked municipal liabilities and turns them into living, thriving community assets," says Matthew Richter, the City of Seattle’s cultural space liaison. "There was something about Estelita’s scale of vision that fit this tiny space in a natural way. They are an organization absolutely hungry to connect to community."
Estelita’s new space is a 225-square-foot, saltbox-roofed structure designed and built by Sawhorse Revolution—a local non-profit that teaches high school students architecture and carpentry with hands-on community projects.
"We strive to team youth furthest from educational justice with professional carpenters and architects so they can build for their own neighborhoods," says Sawhorse’s executive director, Sarah Smith, who partnered with architect Olson Kundig and three other local builders to lead 20 young people.
"For Estelita’s, the students’ core idea was to create a space that was welcoming for all people, and that brought together the activism of the past, present, and future," says Smith of the young design/build team. That translated to a bright, colorful interior that opens via double doors to an adjacent deck, with rolling bleacher storage benches that can move seamlessly from inside out.
Inside are built-in desks on one end and U-shaped bookshelves lining the opposing walls. Outside, a 330-square-foot cedar deck serves as multi-purpose gathering and event space, visually linking Estelita’s to the surrounding neighborhood. "The library can open up for a public lecture, reading, or whatever the community wants," says Smith. "Our goal was to design the most generous communal space."
Unlike most libraries, Estelita’s was always meant to encourage out-loud thinking. "Our goal was to be a complement and ancillary to [the Seattle Public Library]," says Lindo. Named for his daughter Estella, Lindo envisioned Estelita’s as a place for transformative dialogue around topics like race, poverty, and activism. "What Estelita’s tries to do is give us space to think critically and to think with freedom," he says.
For Seattle, Estelita’s is a hint of things to come. The city’s Office of Arts & Culture is planning to issue a second call for Tiny Cultural Space projects in Fall 2021, with intentions to develop it into an annual program. "Arts and culture generally punches way above its weight," says Richter. "With Estelita’s, you’re talking about a 225-square-foot space that’s going to redefine the neighborhood."
Smith agrees: "Perhaps more than any other project, Estelita’s has taught our students how creative design and construction projects can change your perspective, and your community."
Estelita’s Library is planning a grand opening for their new Seattle location in September 2021. Please refer to their website for the latest information. For more information on the City of Seattle's Cultural Space programs, please visit the Office of Arts & Culture website.
Structural Engineer: Coughlin Porter Lundeen
Lighting & HVAC Design: Rushing
Major project funders: Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, Mannix Canby, Boeing, Sellen Construction, National Organization of Women in Construction
Major project donors (labor): DPR Construction, Gensler, MG2, Graphite Design, BN Builders, Wood Technology Center
Major project donors (materials): Rieder Facades, Vaproshield ,Simpson Strong-Tie, North Coast Electric
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