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Library in Shanghai park

Schmidt Hammer Lassen wraps China's biggest library in marble-printed glass facade

The long-awaited Shanghai Library East designed by Danish studio Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects has opened to the public in China.

The 115,000-square-metre Shanghai Library East, located in the Pudong district of Shanghai, is the biggest library in the country.

Schmidt Hammer Lassen designed its monumental shape in reference to a unique type of stone from the region, called Taihu stone, which has perforated surfaces and eroded hollows.

Shanghai Library East exterior
Shanghai Library East was designed to look like a stone

The stone is known as "scholars' rocks" and was widely used in Chinese gardens for centuries. It also features in ancient Chinese literature, which often referenced its shape-shifting look.

"This library was a unique opportunity to reinterpret a cherished Chinese symbol through architecture and design," said project architect Jing Lin.

"In ancient times, scholars would gather around Taihu stones, deriving inspiration from their edges, curvatures, canyons, and tunnels, which seemed to shift when viewed from different vantage points," she added.

"Similarly, as visitors move about Shanghai Library East, their views of its interconnecting spaces shapeshift."

Large library with a glass facade
Shanghai Library East is the largest library in China

SHL also designed the exterior of the seven-storey library to reference literature. Fifteen photographs of marble swirls were "printed" onto the facade's glass panels in homage to China's long history of printed literature.

The printed panels were designed with varying degrees of transparency to help allow more natural light into the building.

Library in a park with glass facade
The library appears to float over a park

The main structure of the building is supported by two pavilions. Seen from afar, this makes the library's main volume appear to "float", as the pavilions at the bottom are covered by the trees in the adjacent Century Park.

One of the pavilions houses a 1,200-seat theatre, exhibition, and events space; the other is a children's library with a central courtyard and outdoor play spaces.

Outdoor reading spaces on top of the library provide a view overlooking Century Park.

Shanghai Library East atrium
The atrium at the entrance connects all seven floors of the building. Photo is by Tian Fangfang

Shanghai Library East's open interior features interconnected spaces and multiple openings, which were also designed in reference to Taihu stone with its multiple hollows.

Bamboo, oak, and terrazzo were used to create a welcoming central atrium at the entrance of the building, which connects the library's seven levels.

Shanghai Library East interior
Bamboo, oak, and terrazzo are used in the interior to create a welcoming atmosphere. Photo is by Tian Fangfang

SHL created stacking and interlocking different floors to ensure all floors are visible from the central atrium. The ground floor can be used to host events and exhibitions, and also holds a bookstore and a cafe.

According to Shanghai Library East, more than 80 per cent of the building's space is dedicated to community activity.

It estimates that the library will house over 1,200 events for more than four million visitors each year.

"This important cultural centre for the citizens of Shanghai embraces the idea of 'collection to connection' – a space to bring people together," said SHL design director and chief architect Chris Hardie.

Bird installation at Shanghai Library East
An installation by Chinese artist Xu Bing is the centrepiece in the main reading area of the building

Ten contemporary Chinese and international artists were invited to create site-specific permanent installations for the library centred around the theme of print, book or stone.

Among them is Bird, an installation created by Chinese artist Xu Bing for the third floor inside the main reading area of the building. It consists of 842 paper "birds" hanging from the ceiling as if flying towards the glass window facing the park.

Bookshelves in library with concrete floors
The lending library will also house cultural events

SHL has completed a number of libraries all over the world, including Scandinavia's largest library Dokk1 in Denmark, Halifax Central Library in Canada and Christchurch Central Library in New Zealand.

The studio is currently working on several cultural projects in China, including two performing arts venues at Westbund Shanghai and a performing arts centre in Beijing.

The video and photography is by RawVision unless stated otherwise.

Project credits:

Design director: Chris Hardie
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, Si Chen
Local Architect: Arcplus Institute of Shanghai Architectural Design & Research
Landscape: ASPECT Studios
Structure Consultant: Schlaich Bergermann Partner
MEP Consultant: Buro Happold
Façade Consultant: Shanghai DHD Curtain Wall Design & Consulting, Shanghai Institute of Architectural Design & Research, DS-plan
Contractor: Shanghai Construction No.4 Group

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