Spend a day exploring Seattle's new public library

It's fitting that the West's most literate city would havethe coolest new library. Designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Ramus(of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture) with LMN Architects,the Seattle Central Library, whichopened last May, is nothing short of a rethinking of the form,function, and spirit of the public library. Outside, it's animmense crystal chiseled into crisp creases and pointy planes, abizarre and bombastic alien presence in a crowd of towers dressedin dowdy business suits. Inside, you've never seen a library thatso welcomes exploration.

Its vast, atrium-like Living Room on level 3 at the Fifth Avenueentrance is the downtown park that Seattle has never had. TheMixing Chamber on level 5 is a trading floor of information, withwireless-equipped reference librarians mingling one-on-one withpatrons. The 10th level contains a reading room, but instead of theusual somber, woody sanctuary evoking the quiet nobility oflearning, it's a jazzy glass treehouse thrusting into the skyline― a place to connect with Seattle's urban energy, not slipinto monkish retreat.

The 4th level is just meeting rooms, but don't miss the red andpink free-form labyrinth connecting them. It's as if you'revisiting the digestive tract of an extremely large sea mammal, orexploring a convention center on another planet.

If you would rather read your books in more intimatesurroundings, head to Ancient Grounds (closed Sun, 1220 First Ave.;206/749-0747), a coffeehouse and gallery with ethnographic artexhibits. Or, to continue your scholarly day, prowl a few of theneighborhood's 12-plus bookstores. Arundel Books (1113First; 206/624-4442) is a tall, quiet space for peacefully browsingthe new and used merchandise.

Left Bank Books (92Pike St.; 206/622-0195) specializes in leftist literature. And Elliott Bay BookCompany (101 S. Main St.; 206/624-6600), a warren of creakingwood floors and weathered brick walls, would be a fine place tospend time even if it didn't have 150,000 new and 20,000 usedtitles.

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