Tucked in the green blanket of Beijing, China, the Beijing sub-center library resembles a monumentally scaled pavilion, a civic space for the people to assemble. Following an international design competition win in 2018, Snøhetta was commissioned to design the new sub-centre library in the Chinese capital and has developed the architectural, landscape, and interior design in partnership with local partner ECADI.
The Design Concept
The foundation of the project owing to the concept of a library questions the canon in terms of its built form and spatial organization. The firm aims for a kind of space that allows its visitors to learn, exchange thoughts, and open discussion under a single roof. The space narrates the rich cultural heritage of China through the spatial planning of the seating spaces and the inclusion of foliage at different intervals.
The notion of the structure is carried out by the theme of “openness and inclusion” featured by the humungous volume of the space that rises to 16meters and is accentuated by the art of light and shadow. A series of sections look like interlocking mounds are strictly placed on the bedrock. The stepped gallery promotes a sense of cohesion where the visitors can come and take a pause. The central valley forms the backbone of the library and serves as the main circulation space from the north side of the building to the south side, which navigates people to all relevant spaces on top of and under the reading landscape. From the exterior, the library projects the same height at all corners, while the interior seems otherwise with the height difference of the tree-like columns making the tapestry above. This particular phenomenon occurred due to the light pouring through the punctures made on the ceiling and casting shadows in places. The light does illuminate not only the space but also guides the movement of the visitors to pre-determined nodes.
The construction style is a pure blend of modern and organic architecture. It showcases minimalism through its spatial optimization and minimal ornamental feature usage. The flowy nature of the curved steps establishes continuity within a rigid frame with interesting breaks of green pockets through the veneer of the columns. Atop the sculpted landscape, visitors can find the nooks of their privacy yet maintain the connection with the rest. The glass facade enables one to maintain the connection with the outside while being in the space. This is the spark of the building that generates friction against the conventional library buildings.
Materiality is the art of architecture that resonates with the context and enhances one’s aesthetic. Beijing’s sub-centre library is no exception. The white slim slender columns and warm brown wooden flooring and accessories narrate the story of completion and compliment. A library ought to be sound insulated, and this is followed by the wooden texture of the flooring. It cuts off the sound of friction between the footsteps of the users and the surface, thus, allowing a serene atmosphere inside. The facade creates a statement with the use of transparent glass that institutes a visual connection between the interior and exterior. Further, the space achieves a whole new perspective when the concise horizontality is rendered with brown, and the verticality attains a new height with the whitewashed columns, resulting in the extravagant volume.
Each column is a building technology component that controls the interior climate, lighting, acoustic comfort, and rainwater disposal. The roof includes integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) construction elements which use prime sun exposure for renewable energy production and an overhang to reduce solar gain. The insulated glass with low E-performance has been lowered on the eastern and western walls and complemented with an active sun-shading device on the southern and western façades. The project used modular components with a rationalized structural grid to reduce the need for customization for both the columns and the roof. More importantly, there has been a strict radius of sourcing materials, thus making the project sustainable.
Overall, the library is an exemplary norm that easily can coax a large no. of visitors under one roof while providing privacy to each at the same time. It is an assimilation of togetherness and being alone; beyond the 16 m height. A public space – truly dedicated to its visitors, considers all the aspects of the actions during a day: movement, pause, privacy, and interaction. The library speaks about the phenomenal experience when one steps inside the building, and from the exterior, it retains a bold character that welcomes passersby. It recreates the instinct of pausing movement and seating under the tree and reading.
Beijing sub-center library is beyond the glass-framed structure, which conjures up the feeling of being in nature, somewhere ethereal. It stands out from its contemporary ones in terms of building and enclosure technology, social and environmental sustainability, and most public ownership in cultural spaces.