Snohetta’s upcoming Beijing sub-centre library is a gigantic forest-like amphitheatre

The Norway-based international architecture firm has revealed a sculpted landscape for a library space being developed in the capital of China.

by STIRworldPublished on : Jan 07, 2022

The upcoming Beijing sub-centre library by Snohetta is anticipated to become China’s first self-supporting glass façade design project. Expected to complete by the end of 2022, the project was commissioned to the Norwegian architecture company when they won it in an international design competition back in 2018. The firm has worked on its architecture, landscape, and interior design together with local partner ECADI.

A view of the forest-like canopy of the library | Snohetta | Beijing | STIRworld
The forest-like canopy of the Beijing sub-centre library Image: © Plomp

Founded in 1989 by Craig Dykers and Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, the firm has since grown manifold and positioned itself as an illustrious name in the international space of architecture and design. With offices in Oslo, Innsbruck, San Francisco, and New York, and a portfolio comprising a diverse scale and range of projects, some of their recent works include twin glass towers for Duett Dusseldorg opera house in Germany, the glittering Le Monde Group headquarters in Paris, a stark art and culinary space in Tokyo, and a series of pentagonal hiking timber cabins in a picturesque location of Luster in Norway.

The amphitheatre-like setting of the library interiors | Snohetta | Beijing | STIRworld
The amphitheatre-like setting of the library interiors Image: © Plomp
The slender columns extend from the ground level to meet the roof forming a forest-like structure| Snohetta | Beijing | STIRworld
The slender columns extend from the ground level to meet the roof forming a forest-like structure Image: © Plomp

For the sub-centre library, Snohetta has designed a 16-metre high glass enclosure housing a forest-like canopy and a common space formed of seemingly fluid, interconnected amphitheatres. The stair seating inside is punctuated by slender columns which extend from the ground level to the roof and further branch out to form the canopy. As described by the design team, the roof canopy alludes to the form of Ginkgo, a Chinese tree characterised by its large form and fan shaped leaves. The columns also double as a technology component connected to services of climate control, lighting, acoustics, and rainwater disposal.

Stepped reading spaces | Snohetta | Beijing | STIRworld
Stepped reading spaces Image: © Plomp

"The stepped landscape areas with the tree-like surroundings invite people to sit down and take a break at any time on their journey through the building – creating an informal zone and the notion of sitting under a tree reading your favourite book,” observes the firm.

It continues, "The library was designed and created to celebrate a public space for learning, information exchange and open discussions, as well as celebrating Beijing’s heritage and rich cultural history of science, art and performance. This has been emphasised by creating a common space as the centre of the library, highlighted by a prominent sculpted learning landscape that covers and permeates throughout the whole library.”

The reading spaces are diverse within the connected schematic of the library. There are as many cosy nooks to immerse one in the world of their favourite books as there are areas of conversations and public discourse. "Creating a feeling of being tall and low, open and closed, private and public all at the same time. There are no designated "sections" or categorisations of knowledge,” say the architects.

Library’s exterior | Snohetta | Beijing | STIRworld
Library’s exterior Image: © Plomp

Linking the architecture with its context, the glass façade of the library reveals an uninterrupted peek into the interiors while intriguing passers-by to explore the space. Facilitating views of the reading zones as well as enabling north-south circulation within the various spaces is the central valley that acts as the backbone of the design. 

Circulation passages within the library | Snohetta | Beijing | STIRworld
Circulation passages within the library Image: © Plomp

The idea of a common inclusive space for the library design draws inspiration from Beijing’s heritage and rich cultural history of science, art and performance. The library, however, is closely designed as a space of the future - from building and enclosure technology, social and environmental sustainability, to public ownership in cultural spaces – for the Chinese capital. From replacing conventional roofing and façade materials with integrated photovoltaic elements, an overhanged roof reducing solar gain, to using locally sourced materials and modular components on the structural grid are some of the features of this ongoing project.

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