“This important cultural center for the citizens of Shanghai embraces the idea of ’gathering to connect’—a space to bring people together. This is the city’s gift to them,” says Chris Hardie, design director and principal architect for Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects.
Designed by Chris Hardie and his team at Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects (SHL) together with local architects Arcplus, Shanghai Library East is one of the largest new libraries in the world.
The library’s primary function as a center of art, culture and technology-driven learning reflects the modern library’s rapidly changing raison d’être.
At the same time, its allusion to classical Chinese scholarship—the building’s shape conjures the scholar’s rock of the ancient literati—anchors it in tradition.
Taihu stones, or scholars’ rocks, served as muses for the Jin Dynasty intelligentsia—sources of creative inspiration and meditation.
They are prized for their abstract qualities, perforated surfaces, eroded cavities and unique textures.
In its architecture, interior design and programming, Shanghai Library East evokes a scholar’s rock in a Chinese garden: a multifaceted stone encased in an emerald canopy; A naturally occurring network of interconnected interior spaces; a source of knowledge, inquiry and discovery.
“This library was a unique opportunity to reinterpret a cherished Chinese symbol through architecture and design,” says project architect Jing Lin.
“In ancient times, scholars gathered around Taihu stones and drew inspiration from their edges, curves, canyons and tunnels, which seemed to shift when viewed from different vantage points.”
“Similarly, as visitors move through Shanghai Library East, their views of its interconnecting spaces change.”
The library’s exterior pays homage to printed literature through an even more subtle symbolism.
An abstract motif depicting 15 photographs of marble circles “printed” on the facade’s glass panels represents the library’s “cover”.
Arranged in horizontal bands of varying translucency, these etched panels allow light to penetrate deep into the building, illuminating the space—and, like a good book, enlightening the mind.
Although it houses multiple books, Shanghai Library East will also host more than 1,200 lectures, seminars, performances, events and hands-on activities for more than 4 million visitors annually.
This series of programs will be facilitated by 115,000 square meters of open, flexible and interconnected environments.
On the main level, a large central atrium welcomes guests into a large yet warm and inviting atmosphere of bamboo, oak and terrazzo.
Overhead, the floors stack and interlock—an architectural strategy to visually connect each of the library’s seven levels.
The lower floor serves as an agora, or central plaza, which hosts various events, exhibitions, a bookstore and a cafe.
“Libraries have long formed the backbone of many communities and become an integral part of our lives. That’s why we refer to them as the ‘third space’—a highly personal place that exists between our home and our work,” says Hardie.
From the outside, the library appears to “float” above two pavilions—one housing a 1,200-seat theater, exhibition and events; the other houses a children’s library with a central courtyard and outdoor play spaces.
On top of the pavilions are open-air reading rooms with roofs to protect visitors from rain.
Visitors enjoy panoramic views of the iconic Shanghai skyline and Century Park, the city’s largest green space.
“The smart and hybrid Shanghai Library East is a new generation library. It is not only a place for storing and lending books, or a reading room, but also an open space for culture and art,” says Chen Chao, director of the Shanghai Library.
“Exhibitions, lectures, music, art, the experience of technology, and even the access to the library itself are seen as a kind of ‘reading’.”
Local artists were an integral part of the design process.
Ten contemporary artists from China and abroad – including Xu Bing, Gu Wenda, Shen Fan, Zheng Chongbin, Emily Floyd, Ni Youyu, Mia Liu, Plummer & Smith, Simon Ma and Yang Zhenzhong – created site-specific permanent installations.
The public artwork program, compiled and realized by the international art consultancy and production company UAP (Urban Art Projects), is rooted in the theme “Mediums: The Development of Writing.”
The works are intended to inspire readers, encourage communication and celebrate knowledge.
“The public art vision for the Library, to create an unprecedented collection befitting an institution dedicated to education, study and the archiving of texts, was an essential guide in the realization process,” says UAP Principal Dane Currey , who oversaw the curation and delivery of the art program for Shanghai Library East.
“To be able to guide the artists and accompany the commissioner and their architects in this journey of conceptualization, experimentation and realization was an honor.”
Project: Shanghai Library East
Architects: Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects
Design team: Lu Rong, Jing Lin, Simon Persson, Bartek Winnicki, Tasha Feng, Sicong Liu, Michelle Tang, Liang Dong, Xiaoshu He, Xing Meng, Qi Zhao, Zhao Wu, Lanqing Hu, Xuewei Liu, Fangzhou Zhu, Morten Schmidt , Lukasz Truchalski, Trushit Vyas, Steven YN Chen, Morten Nielsen, Sebastiano Cattiodoro, Steven Morten, Tade Godberse, Chao Chen, Beihong Mao, Xianjing Jia, Jiaqige Sheng and Si Chen
Architects of Record: Arcplus East China Architectural Design & Research Institute Co., Ltd.
Landscape Architects: Aspect Studios
Client: Shanghai Library
Photographers: Fangfang Tian, RAWVISION Studio, and Chris Hardie