Shanghai East Library / SHL
Text description provided by the architects. Shanghai Library East, a new civic landmark and cultural destination in the world’s third most populous city, has opened its doors. Designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects (SHL), Shanghai Library East is one of the largest new libraries in the world. Its primary function as a center of learning focused on art, culture and technology reflects the rapidly changing raison d’être of the modern library. At the same time, its allusion to classical Chinese scholarship – the shape of the building evokes the scholarly rock of ancient scholars – anchors it in tradition. “This important cultural center for the citizens of Shanghai adopts the idea of ’collection to connection’, a space to bring people together. It’s a gift from the city to them,” says Chris Hardie, Design Director and Chief Architect of SHL.
A scholar’s rock in a Chinese garden
Taihu Stones, or Scholars’ Rocks, served as muses for the intelligentsia of the Jin Dynasty, sources of creative inspiration and meditation. They were prized for their abstract qualities, perforated surfaces, weathered hollows, and unique textures. In its architecture, interior design and programming, Shanghai Library East evokes a scholar’s rock in a Chinese garden: a polyhedral stone enveloped in a canopy of emerald; a natural network of interconnected interior spaces; a source of knowledge, research 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 would gather around the Taihu Stones, drawing inspiration from their edges, bends, canyons and tunnels, which seemed to change when viewed from different vantage points. Likewise, as time As visitors move through the Shanghai Library East, their view of its interconnected spaces changes shape.
The exterior of the library pays homage to printed literature through even more subtle symbolism. An abstract pattern of 15 photographs of marble swirls “printed” on the glass panels of the facade represents the “cover” of the library. Arranged in horizontal bands of varying transparency, these etched panels allow light to penetrate deep into the building, illuminating the space and, like a good book, enlightening the mind.
A place for Shanghainese people
Although it houses many books, the Shanghai Library East will also host more than 1,200 lectures, seminars, performances, events and hands-on activities for more than 4 million visitors a year. This panoply 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 to a large yet warm and welcoming atmosphere of bamboo, oak and terrazzo. Above, 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 square, hosting various events, exhibitions, a bookstore and a café. “Libraries have long been the backbone of many communities, becoming an integral part of our lives. That’s why we call them 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 theatre, exhibition and event space; the other housing a children’s library with a central courtyard and outdoor play areas. Atop the pavilions are outdoor landscaped reading rooms with roofs to protect visitors from the rain. Visitors enjoy panoramic views of Shanghai’s iconic skyline and Century Park, the city’s largest green space. “The smart, hybrid Shanghai Library East is a next-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,” explains Chen Chao, director of the Shanghai Library. “Exhibitions, lectures, music, art, experiencing technologies, and even entering the library itself are considered a kind of ‘reading’.”
Connecting the community to the arts
Local artists were integral to the design process. Ten contemporary Chinese and foreign artists – including Xu Bing, Gu Wenda, Shen Fan, Zheng Chongbin, Emily Floyd, Ni Youyu, Mia Liu, Plummer & Smith, Simon Ma and Yang Zhenzhong – have created site-specific permanent installations. Organized and produced by the international art consulting and manufacturing company UAP (Urban Art Projects), the public works of art program is anchored 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 the education, study and archiving of texts, has been an essential guide in the process of making “, says UAP Principal Dane Currey, who oversaw the curation and delivery of the art program for Shanghai Library East. “Having been able to guide the artists and accompany the curator and their architects in this journey of conceptualization, experimentation and realization has been an honor.”