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Friday, May 4, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Shhhhhssh! Seattle's library is busy evolving

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Graphics: New library plans
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The coppery exterior once planned for the new Seattle Central Library is gone, replaced by a grid of aluminum that frames clear and tinted glass.

The floors may feature light wood in the main-floor gathering spot known as the living room and dark wood in the more classically designed reading room upstairs. There may be an unexpectedly elegant aluminum surface in the main information area and custom-made carpets throughout that turn photographlike prints of flowers, plants and grass into "natural" transitions from the outdoors.

This building may even reinvent the bookshelf. Architects hope to find an economical way to make thousands of shelves more seismically sure --even appear to float - by suspending them from the ceiling and attaching them to the floor.

Innovations keep coming from the team designing the new Central Library, a $159 million project that won't open until 2003. At an open house tomorrow at the current Central Library, the latest ideas will be on display.

The public can look at floor plans, material and color samples, computer-generated images of the building design (five platforms encased in a mesh of steel, aluminum and glass) and understand how the exterior evolved to a point that, minus the copper, is quite close to the original.

"We don't take our previous decisions for granted," said project director Joshua Ramus of the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). "We are constantly studying and reviewing, and sometimes it takes going in a different direction to come back to where you started and understand why you're there."

Some of the attention that has accompanied plans for this building stems from the hiring of the much-honored Rem Koolhaas, winner of the 2000 Pritzker Prize for architecture, and his team at OMA in the Netherlands.

Working with OMA is Seattle-based LMN Architects. Representatives of LMN will attend the open house.

The team has come up with a love-it-or-hate-it design - disliked for its rejection of the Carnegie tradition, embraced for its determination to be extraordinarily efficient and look like nothing else.

Originally, the building featured a tight mesh some had criticized as reminiscent of a cage or a cheese grater. By last spring, architects had rethought the exterior, and the mesh had given way to a larger diamond grid.

Ramus says now he was never completely happy with the second design.

The use of copper - laminated into the glass - was reviewed for aesthetics, function and cost. The color, he says, did not work best with Seattle's skyline, and the grid was not as efficient as the latest design, which has an inside grid of steel for seismic support, topped by the framework of aluminum and glass.

The use of aluminum and clear glass - with tinted glass in the surfaces getting the most direct sunlight - allows for the building to be "as transparent as possible," Ramus said, a design feature meant also to reflect the ease with which patrons will use it.

Beth Kaiman can be reached at 206-464-2441 or bkaiman@seattletimes.com.

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