Spend a day exploring Seattle's new public library

Lawrence Cheek

It's fitting that the West's most literate city would have thecoolest new library. Designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Ramus (ofthe Office for Metropolitan Architecture) with LMN Architects, the Seattle CentralLibrary, which opened last May, is nothing short of arethinking of the form, function, and spirit of the public library.Outside, it's an immense crystal chiseled into crisp creases andpointy planes, a bizarre and bombastic alien presence in a crowd oftowers dressed in dowdy business suits. Inside, you've never seen alibrary that so 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.ArundelBooks (1113 First; 206/624-4442) is a tall, quiet space forpeacefully browsing the new and used merchandise.

Left BankBooks (92 Pike St.; 206/622-0195) specializes in leftistliterature. And Elliott BayBook Company (101 S. Main St.; 206/624-6600), a warren ofcreaking wood floors and weathered brick walls, would be a fineplace to spend time even if it didn't have 150,000 new and 20,000used titles.

You May Like