8 Amazing Libraries (and One That’s Horrible)

One of Spot Cool Stuff’s most popular travel posts has been our review of World’s Best Bookstores. But what about those people looking to borrow, and not buy, a book? Fortunately our planet also has several incredible libraries. In fact, there’s a case to be made for libraries having more interesting architecture than any other building type except for religious houses of worship.

Here’s our look at eight architecturally amazing libraries (and one that’s not so much). It is the first in a series of Spot Cool Stuff’s tour of the world’s best looking libraries. To stay updated on all of our posts, including our cool library series, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS feed or check back with our newly opened Book and Literature Travel category page.

And if you know of a library you’d like us to check out leave us a comment any time. Late fees never apply.

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Waiter, There’s a Cold War Airplane in my Soup

Spot Cool Stuff loves when retired aircraft are put to creative (and environmentally friendly) uses. There’s the Boeing 747 that’s now a hotel in Stockholm. The helicopter B&B in Connecticut. And the former Russian aircraft that takes a Swiss bar and restaurant complex to new heights.

Said Swiss bar and restaurant complex is Runway 34, located adjacent to Zurich International Airport.

Said Russian aircraft is a lyushin-14T, used by the Soviet Union’s Air Force for transporting scientists and cosmonauts-in-training between Moscow and a secret military training facility during the Cold War. (It is rumored that the aircraft was personally used by Stalin, which would have been quite the feat for the former Soviet strongmen seeing how he died in 1953 and the lyushin-14T wasn’t built until 1957.)

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5 Cool Buildings Made of Shipping Containers

Shipping containers. You’ve seen them on trains, on the back of trucks, at ports and piled onto cargo ships. There more than 20 million of those steel 40 by 8 feet (12 by 2.4 meter) boxes scattered around the world. That’s more than were needed even before the current economic slowdown. Today, as many as one million shipping containers may be sitting around unused. The surplus is especially profound in the United States, northern Europe and China.

Given the planet’s excess of shipping containers and shortage of affordable housing it only makes sense that people would make the connection. “Container architecture” has become a specialty in itself. The benefits are obvious: Containers are relatively cheap (around US$1,200~1,500 each). They are, by definition, portable. And they are durable (made to survive rough treatment and resist salt corrosion). A container house can be built, on average, 40% faster than a comparably sized traditional house. And then there’s the environmental benefit of putting surplus containers to use instead of letting them slowly rust in a landfill.

Thousands buildings made of shipping containers are today being uses for offices, stores, restaurants and private residences. There are several excellent books documenting the most interesting among them. Here are five shipping container buildings we think are especially cool:

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Eating In The Dark

Here’s a restaurant theme you didn’t see coming: darkness.

The concept of purposefully eating in complete pitch-black dark originated with Jorge Spielmann, a blind clergyman from Zurich. When guests ate dinner at the Spielmann house some would wear blindfolds during their meal to show solidarity with their host and to better understand his world. What Spielmann’s sighted guests found was that the blindfolds heightened their sense of taste and smell and made their dining experience more enjoyable. That gave Spielmann the idea to open a dark restaurant, which he did in 1999.

Today you can stumble into dozens restaurants around the world where that question made famous in an American commercial in the 80s — Where’s the beef? — takes on a whole new meaning. Most dark restaurants employ blind waiters, offer a single set menu, and ban anything that could give off light (like cigarettes, cell phones and cameras) from the dinning area. All of them also have normally lit bathrooms though you’ll need to ask your waiter for help in finding it.

Here’s our illuminating look at some of the world’s dark restaurants:

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