enter the fascinating east shanghai library
Shanghai Library East, a new civic landmark and cultural destination in the world’s third most populous city, has opened its doors to the public. Conceived by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects (SHL)the building is one of the largest new libraries to exist. Its primary function as a center of learning focused on art, culture and technology in Shanghai reflects the rapidly changing purpose of the modern library. At the same time, his allusion to the classic Chinese scholarship – the shape of the building evokes the rock of the scholar of ancient scholars – the anchor in tradition.
‘This important cultural center for the citizens of Shanghai embraces the idea of ”from collection to connection” – a space to bring people together. It’s the city’s gift to them,’ notes Chris Hardiedesign director of the SHL studio in Shanghai.
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reinterpret ancient Chinese culture
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 by SHL evokes a scholar’s rock in a Chinese garden: a polyhedral stone wrapped 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, curvatures, canyons, and tunnels, which seemed to change when viewed from different vantage points. Likewise, as visitors move through the Shanghai Library East, their view of its interconnected spaces changes shape..’
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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.
Although housing various books, the Shanghai Library East will also host over 1,200 lectures, seminars, performances, events and hands-on activities for over 4 million visitors per year. This panoply of programs will be facilitated by 1.2 million square feet 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. Meanwhile, the lower floor serves as an agora, or central plaza, 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 very personal place that exists between our home and our work.,’ Hardie explains.
picture © Tian Fang Fang
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.,’ said Chen Chao, director of the Shanghai Library. ‘Exhibitions, lectures, music, art, experience of technologies and even entry into the library itself are considered a kind of “reading”..’
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connecting people through art
Local artists were integral to the design process. Ten Chinese and foreign contemporary artists, including Xu Bing, Gu Wenda, Zheng Chong Bin, Emily Floyd, Ni Youyu, Mia Liu, Plummer & Blacksmith, Simon Maand Yang Zhenzhong—created site-specific permanent installations. Curated and Produced by the International Arts Consultancy and Manufacturing Company UAP (Urban Art Projects), the public works of art program 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 the education, study and archiving of texts, has been an essential guide in the process of making .,’ notes Dane Currey, director of the UAP, who oversaw the curation and delivery of Shanghai Library East’s arts program. ‘To have been able to guide the artists and accompany the sponsor and their architects in this journey of conceptualization, experimentation and realization has been an honor..’
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