Snøhetta’s new Beijing City Library is the world’s largest climatized reading space

A Walk in the Park

Snøhetta’s new Beijing City Library is the world’s largest climatized reading space

Beijing City Library designed by Snøhetta (Yumeng Zhu/Courtesy Snøhetta)

In Beijing’s Tongzhou District, a new public library by Snøhetta recently opened its doors. Beijing City Library is one of three prominent cultural institutions underway in a neighborhood considered to be the Chinese capital’s eastern gateway. Like its two other counter parts, Beijing City Library will anchor the budding district as it grows into a new sub-center.

The Norwegian office’s design features a forest of 52-foot-tall columns upholding a playful, nebulous roof slab; enveloped by a multi-story curtain wall. As such, Snøhetta has called the new Beijing City Library the world’s largest climatized reading space. The open hangar space is reminiscent of past libraries by the firm—namely Bibliotheca Alexandria in Egypt, the office’s inaugural project, which similarly featured a tiered reading space interspersed with organically shaped columns.

The library is meant to resemble a forest of gingko trees. (Yumeng Zhu/Courtesy Snøhetta)

Snøhetta won a competition in 2018 to design the 800,000-square-foot library in China, beating out a slew of international offices. Local firm ECADI worked with Snøhetta on the project. The user experience is meant to evoke meandering a sea of gingko trees, a native Chinese species.

The architects took the forest motif even further by constructing a series of wooden, stepped hills inside the space. In the negative space between the hills, a snake-shaped valley is created. This space, the architects said, is meant to mirror the sensuous milieu that lines the nearby Tonghui River.

Exterior view (Yumeng Zhu/Courtesy Snøhetta)

Semi-private reading areas and conference rooms are inserted within the artificial hills, the architects added, while book stacks and table seating are situated on the flat areas. This ADA-compliant central open area has one of the largest book Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) in the world.

More novelty occurs inside the columns. Hidden to the naked eye, within the columns is technology that controls interior climate, lighting, and acoustics. They also help collect rainwater from the roof to be reused for irrigation by channeling it to a green infrastructure system.

(Yumeng Zhu/Courtesy Snøhetta)

“It is the love people have for books that has made libraries survive the digital age and hold new potential to give back more to the city and its public,” said Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, cofounder and partner at Snøhetta. “It is up to us to reinterpret the relationship between body, mind, and the surroundings to rekindle the joy of reading away from the screen. Libraries are here to stay.”

Robert Greenwood, partner and director of Asia Pacific at Snøhetta, added: “The role libraries play in society and the way people use them has vastly changed. They are now needed to function as vibrant community spaces, enabling social interaction and knowledge-sharing.”

Inside the columns, there is technology that helps control the interior climate. (Yumeng Zhu/Courtesy Snøhetta)

Beijing City Library is a new addition to Snøhetta’s impressive library portfolio. The office is currently working on three more libraries, including Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina, Far Rockaway Library, and Westchester Square Library in New York.