New Starbucks at UW’s historic Suzzallo Library is anything but old school

When Henry Suzzallo was appointed president of the University of Washington in 1915, one of his top priorities was the construction of a new library that would be the soul of the university. Within a decade, modern steel beams would rise high into Seattle’s skies, forming the backbone of its gothic structure. Next would come soaring stained-glass windows and ornate details, and a skin of bricks and stone. Seattle was still a young timber town, yet by the time the library opened its doors to students in 1926, it already looked as if had been there for centuries.

“When you see Suzzallo, you think you’re looking at a cathedral,” said Denzil Suite, UW Vice President for Student Life. “It speaks to the grand, gothic architecture that’s inside the building – the columns, the spiral staircase, the stone. It has a presence of its own that just inspires awe.”

More than 90 years later, the library that bears Suzzallo’s name remains an inspiring place to gather to meet and study. The new Starbucks store just inside its doors honors its architecture and spirit with a café that is warm and inviting, consistent with the historic beauty of the building.

“One of our shared values with Starbucks is community,” Suite said. “We are always looking for students to gather with each other in places where they can have conversations and give them a chance to learn about each other.”

Bret Lewis was the lead designer for Starbucks for the new store that opened today (Sept. 12). He and his team took care to preserve original elements from the library, including the original doors and their ornate iron scrollwork. He also took advantage of the natural light that pours into the space through the original stained-glass windows. New elements such as metalwork and overarching columns reference the building’s metal structural features.

For the layout, Lewis created a space that was meant to be experienced three-dimensionally, with a large island in the center, wrapped by reclaimed wood and two-tone cement flooring to create the sense of prominence. On one side of the island are two cases with grab-and-go food and beverages, and three Mastrena espresso machines for handcrafted beverages. On the opposite side is a long coffee bar, highlighting the company’s rare, small-lot Starbucks Reserve® coffees. Here, students and faculty can engage while watching their beverages being prepared with one of the different brewing methods available, including Starbucks Draft Nitro, Clover and pour-over. 

“When you think about the Suzzallo Library, it’s really the heart and soul of campus,” Lewis said. “So we thought about what is the heart and soul of Starbucks and integrated that in the center of the space.”

Surrounding the island is seating for more than 100 customers with a mix of lounge chairs, soft sofas, café and bar seating, as well as community tables – all with easy access to electrical convenience outlets. Brand tenets of the university are laser etched into panels that envelop the space, translated into eight different languages. 

“We wanted to have a global approach with such a multicultural campus,” he said. “It’s a gesture that says, ‘We welcome you.’”

Store manager Dawn Getta, who managed Starbucks first on-campus location at the Husky Union Building, is looking forward to welcoming students back to campus in this new space.

“The store has a sense of duality,” said Getta. “You can come in and get a great cup of coffee and a quick snack to go. But you can also slow down at the bar and enjoy watching your coffee being brewed and engage with the baristas.”

Starbucks UW Suzzallo Store

Along the back wall of the store is a 40-foot sculpture made with found coffee-related objects from Starbucks, and historical objects from the Suzzallo Library, along with hand-fabricated elements and reclaimed wood. The concept was inspired by the ornate detailing on Suzzallo Library’s façade and the hand-carved friezes atop the oak bookcases that line the library walls. Local artist Matthew Olds, who studied art at the UW, created the multi-layered art arrangement that tells the story of the many hands involved in the coffee journey, from bean to cup.

“I hope people feel a sense of global scale, and at the same time, an intimacy,” said Olds. “To me, this is the very essence of the experience at the UW and, on many levels, at Starbucks.”

With the start of the new academic year, Suite sees the opening of the new store at Suzzallo as supporting an important part of the university’s mission.

“No longer do you go to any job or any major company and work alone,” he said. “Everything is about working in teams and working with other people and especially people who are different from themselves. Starbucks is a unifying space in that respect where everyone feels at home.”

Starbucks and the University of Washington

Starbucks has been a part of the university community for more than 35 years, since it opened the company’s fourth store in the University District. In 2012, Starbucks and UW formalized their partnership to not only offer coffeehouse destinations on campus, but to create opportunities to bring students, faculty and staff to connect students to jobs, protect the environment, support veterans and military spouses, and promote inclusion and community service.

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Starbucks names first North American Barista Champion: Darcy Todd of Texas