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Libraries That Dazzle

Visit these public libraries in California, Oregon, Utah, and Washington for spectacular designs.

Seattle Public Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas, image
Photo caption
Seattle's Central Library was designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus.

If you thought the Internet would make books obsolete, think again. Public libraries are enjoying a renaissance thanks to innovative designs and bold visions of what they can be. Many in the West have become destinations in their own right.

CERRITOS, CALIF. Tropical fish dart back and forth in a 15,000-gallon saltwater aquarium in the entry to the public library in this city near Anaheim. Farther inside, a life-size tyrannosaurus glowers from beneath a domed ceiling illuminated with images of the sky. The hallway to the children's collection leads past giant books stacked 12 feet high, while outdoors the building's titanium skin changes color as the weather shifts. (562) 916-1350,

EUGENE, ORE. A monument to learning, Eugene's new library boasts lighting that continuously adjusts to the daylight pouring through its tall windows. Even at dusk in winter, the library glows with warmth. Meanwhile, its spiral central stairway, topped by an oval skylight, is whimsically out of kilter. (541) 682-5450,

PHOENIX Built to resemble a mesa of copper split by a canyon of stainless steel, Phoenix's library includes a luminous five-story atrium and reflecting pool. The rare book room holds 4,000-year-old Babylonian tablets, Shakespeare folios, and other exceptional works. The reading room—over an acre—is North America's largest. Its towering columns resemble huge candlesticks. Skylights with lenses are positioned so sunlight "flames" flicker atop the candles at noon each summer solstice. (602) 262-4636,

SALT LAKE CITY Dubbed "America's unquietest library"—the librarians here wear buttons declaring "No Shh!"—the new Salt Lake City public library hosts stimulating events, including concerts, performances, talks, book festivals, and computer classes. Along with an outdoor amphitheater, gallery, and café, the library has a roof garden with 360-degree views of the Salt Lake Valley and Wasatch Range. (801) 524-8200,

SEATTLE Designed by avant-garde Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, Seattle's new 11-story library has become a magnet for architecture buffs and bookworms alike. Inside the faceted facade of cross-hatched steel and shining glass are crayon-yellow escalators, a cherry-red public meeting area, and the "Books Spiral," a winding four-story ramp where most of the library's nonfiction resides. (206) 386-4636,

Photography courtesy of Seattle Public Library

This article was first published in March 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.