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.
Bibliothek des Rechtswissenschaftlichen Instituts
Anyone familiar with the work of famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava will immediately see his hand in the elegant curves and dramatic interiors of the law library of the University of Zurich. The desks and book stacks ringing the atrium here are a sight to behold, though we’re not sure they are particularly conducive to getting work done—it is too tempting to people watch and to admire the architecture. Those hoping to accomplish actual studying will be better off going to the more cozy and quiet areas away from the atrium. Tourists visiting the library should take one of the glass elevators to the top floor to get the full feel for this fabulous building. And those who can’t get to Zurich can make a virtual visit via the library’s website; the text on the site is in German only but includes a really well done visual virtual tour.
Biblioteca Parque España
Atop it hill in Medellin is what looks like three enormous rocks. The first time you view this edifice from a distance you may well wonder whether it is the subject of some ancient deistic worship. Then enter the Spain Library—stacks of books are in the outer rocks, an auditorium is in the middle—and the solid slab-like exterior melts away. Slatted windows in the surprisingly thin exterior wall are positioned to let in maximum light. And angled gaps in the walls create a light, airy feeling inside. This juxtaposition between the open interior and solid granite exterior makes the Biblioteca Parque España our personal favorite library on this list. These rocks are an architectural gem.
UCSD Geisel Library
San Diego, California
Do you see a resemblance between the Geisel Library and San Francisco’s Transamerica Building? Both have pyramidal shapes (albeit upside down in the case of the Geisel). And both are the brainchild of architect William L. Pereira. Pereira designed the Geisel Library in the late 1960s, at the end of a decade that saw a wave of supposedly futuristic architecture sweep southern California. Spot Cool Stuff is impressed at how modern this 40-year old building still looks.
The Geisel Library is on the campus of the University of California at San Diego and is open to non-students. To find it simply follow the snake path (pic below). Being located so close Hollywood, it isn’t surprising that the Geisel has been the location of several movie and television shoots, our favorite coming in the delightfully horrible Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. The library was named after Theodore Geisel, who you may know better by his pen name: Dr. Seuss.
Seattle Public Library
Seattle, Washington USA
Eight horizontal sections, each with it’s own function, makes up Seattle’s cool main public library. The major section is the “Book Spiral,” four floors high but traversed by slightly inclined floors such that one can walk from the bottom to the top without setting foot on a stair or elevator. Other sections include an auditorium and a technology training center. Between them are all sorts of public spaces. The large carpeted “Living Room” area (third and fourth pics, below) is the most popular. But we’re partial to the nooks on the top floor and their views of Puget Sound. Between the lounge chairs, computers, coffee stop and art displays please remember that you can also use this library to, you know, read books.
If you visit: Spot Cool Stuff highly suggests the free public library tours. Not the general tour, which is focused more on how to use the library, but the hour-long architectural tour focused on the cool aspects of the building. Phone reservations are not accepted but you can sign up for your spot on the next tour at the Welcome Desk on level 3.
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Biblioteca Sandro Penna
A flying saucer landed 200km north of Rome and then turned itself into a library. Or at least that’s how it may appear to visitors to Perugia, a town known more for its plethora of old churches that its modern-retro architecture. The interior of the library resembles a cross between a dot-com office and the 13 year old girl’s room—colorful couches and pastel book shelves mix with the pink-hued light produced by the glass walls. We prefer visiting this library at night, looking at it from the outside, when the bright round shape of the library building looks other-worldly.
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TU Delft Library
Any self-respecting technological institute should have a modern library. Holland’s Delft University of Technology is clearly full of self respect. Their library does not only have 1,000 study spaces and 300 computer terminals but looks cool providing them. The building’s most visually striking feature is obvious from our photos—the 45 meter (150 ft) high glass and steel cone protruding from the middle. The edges of the cone work to bring light into the interior of the library; inside the cone are four floors of reading rooms reached by a spiral staircase. The true measure of this library’s success, though, is perhaps best measured by the fact that it has become the hub of campus life. Students shop in the bookstore and hang out in its coffee shop. On warm, sunny days the library’s gently-slopped grass-covered roof is full of people socializing and sun bathing.
If you visit: The TU Delft Library can be easily visited on a day trip from Amsterdam, 70km (43 miles) to the north. To get their take bus 63, 121, 129, or 201 from the Delft train station; get off at the stop just before the auditorium on Michiel de Ruyterweg.
Salt Lake City Public Library
View Salt Lake City’s main public library from one side and it resembles so many office buildings that dot America. Look at it from the other side and the glassy sail-shapped structure looks pretty cool. Then walk through the front door and you’ll go WOW! Entering the library puts you in the “Urban Room,” a massive atrium that extends five floors up to a series of skylights. That design is part of the library’s plan to make maximum use of natural light. It works so well that on a sunny day there’s almost no need to have lights on in the library. Of course, on those days you’ll likely want to be hanging out on the library’s tree and flower-filled rooftop garden.
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Library of Picture Books
What’s cool about the Library of Picture Books in Iwaki? It’s a library full of picture books! It is also the work of one of Spot Cool Stuff’s favorite architects, Tadao Ando, who ensured that from nearly every point in the library there was a view of the green hills of Fukushima and the Pacific Ocean a short distance beyond them. Both the interior building and exterior grounds are full of kid-friendly play spaces and nooks for reading. Much to the chagrin of parents, children are encouraged to ignore protocol and plop down with a book where ever they feel like, in the middle of the floor or on the stairs or where ever.
Spot Cool Stuff occasionally delights in travel sights that are so bad that they’re good. This abandon library in Russia strikes us as simply sad. We’ve never been to it ourselves (and don’t particularly want to go). Knowledge of this library comes to us by way of the excellent photo blog English Russia. A reminder that libraries of all sorts, from the amazing to the ordinary, are worth saving.
[via English Russia]
Know a building we should include in our next installment of our cool library series of posts? Let us know in a comment: