by Jerry ElengicalSep 10, 2022
An electrifying sense of tension is embodied in the design of the Water Drop Library by Beijing-based practice 3andwich Design / He Wei Studio, perched on the precipice of a green cliffside in Huizhou, Guangdong, China. Its pure circular form, melding into the terrain, is topped by a rooftop pool that seems to merge into the waters of the South China Sea. The structure's positioning within its hilly context is awe-inspiring on one count, begging comparison to John Lautner’s Elrod House in Palm Springs, California, famously featured as a set for films and magazine shoots. It is this sense of spectacle, borne as a consequence of their similar cliffside sites, that makes both structures so captivating in their own right. Much like Lautner’s own brand of organic architecture as seen in the Elrod House, the Water Drop Library would not seem out of place as an exotic setting in a film or graphic novel, instead of its actual function as a storehouse for knowledge.
Surrounded by the rolling hills of Shuangyue Bay Central Park in Huizhou’s Pinghai Town locality, the project’s site slopes southwards in the direction of the sea, from an elevated region of hills and valley in the north. Placed quite close to the park’s centre, the plot also posed a number of constraints for the architects to confront in the form of residential buildings in the north whose sightlines towards the sea could not be obstructed by the new structure. Similar structures in the east, south east, and a multi-storey building in the southwest would also hinder views of the sea - a key consideration for the Chinese architecture practice when developing the library’s design in its early stages.
Fused with the side of the hill, the library’s form comprises a main circular volume that houses the functional areas, as well as a narrow linear wall enclosing a corridor that projects from a point slightly off the centre of its rooftop towards the crest of the hill at its rear. This strong geometric design language achieves a "poetic tension," suspended above the landscape to bask in panoramic 270-degree views of the sea. Placing the structure in this fashion not only afforded it such scintillating vistas but also holistically embedded it into the flow of the land with regards to it slope. This move also serves to limit its height and obstruction of sea views while simultaneously cutting down on the amount of earthwork required for construction, in an area with an abundance of boulders along the course of its uneven topography.
The building’s façade design is expressed in pure white, which is the colour of both the linear wall and plane section of its roof and base. Glass walls span the surface area in between, wrapping the form in a transparent membrane that gently curves along the side of the hill. The roof is itself bowl-shaped, in order to function as the receptacle for the pool’s water from where the glazed section appears to hang below it. A series of stepping stones on the surface of the water allow users to enjoy the breathtaking vistas of the landscape on offer without having to submerge themselves. Viewed from a distance, this action may even give an impression of walking on water - another element of theatricality ingrained into the design. No fencing was used by the Chinese architects along the edges of the pool's design to preserve its visual continuity with the waters of the coastline, and the architects made deft use of depth to ensure safety and restrict entry.
Besides its sculptural quality, the long wall also draws an onlooker’s attention towards the pool through forced perspective. At dusk, the sun’s angle produces long shadows that alter the pure white of the structure’s surfaces to impart an ethereal charm to it. This air of otherworldliness is also reflected in the means of accessing the building , through a winding stairway on its northern side which borders the main road. Ascending the route is no easy task and intends to provide an ordeal for prospective visitors - which has been described by the architects as "a path to the mountain of books." On reaching the top of the hill, users will have to once again descend below the surface of the water through a corridor, immersing themselves in an environment of learning.
Contrast between light and dark, round and linear, as well as openness and confinement were fundamental to the architects' vision of the space. Following the corridor and pool on the roof, the path through the structure arrives at the porch, a small transition area that connects to the main body of the library through a circular area at its core. Earthy tones characterise the central area, which features boulders that ornament the space and reference the texture of the surrounding terrain. This space can be used for exhibitions and small parties when necessary and primarily provides a guide for the reading room, with two openings punctured into its enclosure.
From the alternate entrance to the southeast, which bypasses the boulders and steep climb, a water bar is the first area encountered inside the structure. A coloured glass window on the ceiling here has been embedded into a trapezoidal form that projects above the surface of the water, raining sunlight in different hues through the area. Behind it, the curved rear wall outlines a series of spaces that include the operating room, toilets, and device room. On the other side of the layout is the VIP tea room, which also leans into the earthy interior design aesthetic that was featured in the dark room. The layout here is quite simple, featuring a single rectangular table that projects from a stone installation. A window looking onto the northern side of the site furnishes natural light to expand the otherwise small space, infusing a silent, meditative atmosphere inside it.
Past it, the space expands considerably into a ring-shaped reading room - adhering to the profile of the roof - which encloses a circular area at its core. As the reading room is bright and airy with clear visual links to its context, the internal space is darker and disconnected from its surroundings. The external wall of the latter accommodates a sinuous cloud-like bookshelf that is the focal point of the reading room, with seating arranged in parallel along the panoramic windows enveloping the zone. White, grey, and other neutral tones are prominently featured here, particularly on the steps that run in tandem with the trajectory of the bookshelf as secondary seating area. Stretching infinitely into the distance, an unobstructed view of the horizon is available here, merging the earth, sea, and sky into one.
Experimental and ambitious in scope yet effective in its detailing, the Water Drop Library is an almost surreal example of library architecture, channelling elements of theatricality and spectacle at every turn. Despite all this, the building remains deeply grounded in its context, connecting people to their environment while unfolding a spatial narrative as an artefact that respects its place in space and time without resorting to superficial imitation of natural elements.
Name: Water Drop Library
Location: Shuangyue Bay, Huizhou City, Guangdong Province, China
Construction Area: 450 sqm
Site Area: 3500 sqm
Year of Completion: 2022
Client: Huizhou Shuangyue Bay Real Estate Investment and Development Co., Ltd.
Architect: 3andwich Design / He Wei Studio
Interior Design: 3andwich Design / He Wei Studio
Principal Architects: He Wei, Chen Long
Project Architects: Wang Ziyi(architecture), Meng Xiangting(interior)
Design Team: Zhou Junjie, Wan Yuexiao, Liu Song, Sang Wanchen, Liu Yong, Zhu Yanming, Yan Ziming
Structure Engineer: Pan Congjian
Landscape Design: TOPOS Landscape Architects
Lighting Design: Guangzhou International Lighting Design Co. Ltd (Beijing)
Design Management Team: Luo Shaochuan, Liu Shaowen, Yu Yanfei, Li Guohao
Engineering Management Team: Liu Zhifei, Lin Yonghua