Community library in China turns a roof
into a playground


Children can clamber onto the curved roof of this community library in China, which architects John Lin and Olivier Ottevaere designed for an earthquake-damaged village in Yunnan Province (+ slideshow)

THE PINCH by John Lin

Ottevaere and Lin led a team from the University of Hong Kong to design The Pinch, a library and community centre built as part of a government reconstruction following the 2012 Yunnan earthquakes.

THE PINCH by John Lin

Situated in the mountain village of Shuanghe in south-west China, the library and surrounding plaza offers a meeting place for local residents, as well as a space where children can play and read.

THE PINCH by John Lin

"Villages in China often prioritise building houses over community spaces and community programs, even though it is an important aspect of village life," Lin told Dezeen.

THE PINCH by John Lin

"Although the government provided an open plaza for the reconstruction, we wanted to help introduce a program which would activate the site. By adding the library, we have created an important public and communal facility in the village," he explained.

THE PINCH by John Lin

The library features a twisted shape that bends out to meet an elevated stretch of pavement, allowing visitors to walk over the roof and look out towards a new basketball court.

THE PINCH by John Lin

Inside, rows of books sit on shelves made from interlocking timber frames, which are suspended from the ceiling and hover just above the floor.

THE PINCH by John Lin

Simple school benches offer flexible seating, while polycarbonate plastic doors and windows front the building.

THE PINCH by John Lin

The project was part-funded by the University of Hong Kong. Forming part of a knowledge exchange project, the design team worked with a local timber company to learn about native wood and regional construction techniques.

THE PINCH by John Lin

Here's a project description from the design team:

The Pinch: library and community centre

The Pinch is a library and community centre in Shuanghe Village, Yunnan Province, China. The project is part of a government-led reconstruction effort after an earthquake in Sept 2012. The majority of village houses were destroyed, leaving the residents living in tents for up to one year. After the earthquake the government has sponsored new concrete and brick houses and a large central plaza. During the first site visit, the houses remained incomplete and the plaza was a large empty site.

THE PINCH by John Lin

The University of Hong Kong decided to sponsor the design and implementation of a new library building. Located in the new but empty public plaza, it would serve to activate the community and provide a physical memorial for the event. The site of the library is against a 4 meter high retaining wall. The design spans across this level difference and acts as a bridge between the rebuilt village and the new memorial plaza. Emphasising its location in a remote mountain valley, the design responds visually to the space of the valley, offering stunning views across a dramatic double curved roof. The structure itself rises to a peak, a monument to the earthquake and rebuilding effort.

THE PINCH by John Lin

As a Knowledge Exchange Project, the construction involves collaboration with a local timber manufacturing factory. The process resulted in the development of a surprisingly diverse form through simple means. A series of trusses is anchored between the upper road level and lower plaza level.

THE PINCH by John Lin

The form of each truss changes to create both a gradual incline (to bring people down) and then a sharp upward pitch (to elevate the roof). The trusses were covered in an aluminium waterproofing layer and timber decking. On the interior, the trusses extend downward to support a floating bookshelf. Simple traditional school benches are used as chairs. The polycarbonate doors can open to create a completely open space extending out to the plaza.

THE PINCH by John Lin

Rather than submitting to the abandonment of wood construction (as with the houses after the earthquake), the project reasserts the ability to build contemporary timber structures in remote areas of China.

THE PINCH by John Lin
Construction diagram

Location: Shuanghe Village, Yunnan Province, China
Design: Olivier Ottevaere and John Lin / The University of Hong Kong
Construction: Kunming Dianmuju Shangmao Company
Funding: Supported by the Knowledge Exchange Impact Award, HKU
Project Team: Crystal Kwan (Project Manager), Ashley Hinchcliffe, Connie Cheng, Johnny Cullinan, Jacky Huang
Size: 80 sqm
Cost: 130,000 rmb
Unit Cost: 1600 rmb/sqm

  • Jlo

    Nice idea – although looks a little on the steep side to be child friendly.

    • Seahorse

      As someone who’s been a child, if it has a slant your butt can go down it. I’ve slid down steeper slides made of metal in the middle of the summer.

  • Eynak East

    This is it, a community hybrid, book and play something that should stay.
    It’s an easy read this architectural seed, letting the mind grow page to page and on the roof stage. Simple and elegant that Chinese have done it, that’s hope this doesn’t plummet. The tiny village is making it happ-an, all in the Province of Yunn-an

  • SSH

    Well done!

  • SSH

    Make sure there is glass or some soft pad at the end of slid so when the kid land, that will not hurt.

  • Danillo

    Nothing like the synergistic concept of a hushed library with screaming / stomping children on the roof.

    • UniRes

      Perhaps the children are allowed to run around after they’ve had library time. It doesn’t look like a large village full of roaming kids that might be hopped up on sugar and video games.

  • Nowadays, I might scream, “where is the safety and building code? Has anyone thought of the children?!”

    Then I remember that being a child, is about exploring, and learning. That we used to have far more dangerous things to play on, and through growing safety regulation, have had much of our imaginative landscape demolished to small, “safe” enclosures.

    I welcome any design that challenges standards, and the norm, for imagination and creativity. Two thumbs up to this. Long live living through the eyes of children!

  • Rent

    Nothing like sliding down a wood roof after a long 18hr work day at 8 years old. How about you give the kids total freedom and keep your cool architectural pipe dream.

    • Kate

      Two thoughts: 1. how do you spell ‘splinters’ in Chinese? 2. If you survived an earthquake, what’s a fall off a roof? Great work (with a little credit to our friends in Copenhagen).

  • Corb’s Cat

    A library with a rickety roof designed for people to jump around on?

  • hjfgh

    Are you kidding? Really does not look safe or child-friendly at all. That guard ramp should be at least twice as tall as it is.