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Massive Library Planned For Chinese University

Designers take cues from surroundings to create a library that will be the center point of a new campus for one of China’s oldest universities.

July 2, 2013—One of the oldest institutions of higher learning in China, the Hebei University of Technology, is building a new campus in the Beichen district of Tianjin (Tientsin). At its center will be an expansive library that will mimic and blend the area’s existing architectural styles in a decidedly modern way.

The 45,000 m2 library will be aligned perpendicular to the campus’s north and south access points and be visible from a distance in every direction. It will be 40 m tall and have nine levels, eight of them aboveground and one belowground for parking and mechanical systems. The structure will house 2.4 million books and offer seating for approximately 4,500 people. “It’s quite a big library,” says Damian Donze, the primary architect on the project for the Tongji Architectural Design and Research Institute, which is based in Shanghai and is also providing structural engineering for the project. “It will be the jewel of this campus, and that was kind of the challenge—to make sure to create a building that is worthy of this position.”

A sprawling ground floor will contain all of the library’s secondary spaces, including archives, offices, a convention center, exhibition space, and a reception area. The main library will rise from that level and in doing so will suggest an upside-down trapezoid. At its lowest level, this main portion of the building will have its own reception area, along with study spaces and the most frequently accessed stacks. The remaining levels also will have study spaces and stacks, but the study spaces in the higher levels will be smaller and the number of stacks will be greater. The less-frequented stacks will be on the top level. “This arrangement will reduce the load on the circulation [system] quite a bit,” Donze says.

Since the campus is new, the university doesn’t have an immediate need for such a large library, so the top three levels will initially be closed off. “They want to use the ground floors first—one to five—while opening up the top three floors later,” Donze explains. “We closed the lower portion of the building from the top so that it can be used individually, and they don’t have to heat the whole building in the winter or cool it in the summer.” When the need arises, the top three levels will be accessible via an elevator.

Two large atriums and two loft spaces—study areas with two- and three-story heights that line the perimeter of the building—will create a sense of airiness within the building. Four skylights over the atriums, along with the windowed facades directly adjacent to the loft spaces, will enable natural daylight to penetrate the structure. “We used special skylights so that instead of having direct sunlight shining into the building, we get defused, more comfortable light,” Donze explains. Controlling the light is critical because too much sunlight can damage books and make reading difficult. The fact that the floor plates are set back from the facades at the loft locations also will protect the books from the harmful effects of direct sunlight, he says.

The library will be clad in two materials that are intended to reflect the existing nearby architecture. The north facade will be clad in terra-cotta panels to mimic the brick buildings found throughout the university’s original campus, which is in the center of Tianjin, and the south facade will be clad in natural stone to reflect the stucco-style buildings located nearby. Those materials, along with embedded glass panels, will form a stacking pattern, an allusion to the brickwork that is common in Tianjin. “You could say that Tianjin is sort of a brick city,” Donze says. “There are lots of European buildings that use bricks, and so we tried to go with some brick imagery for the facade—stacking imagery—while using different materials.” Four entrances, one facing each of the cardinal directions, will make the building easily accessible.

In contrast to many buildings in China, the library will have exterior features designed to entice people to linger outside and enjoy the scenery, including an adjacent pond. These features include two-story tall steps on the building’s south side that can also serve as seats. “I hope the exterior that we created will provide a space [in which] people will maybe even study outside, rest a little bit, or just enjoy being outside, which is something not so common in China,” Donze explains. “Usually everything is done to emphasize the building, but we tried to create something that actually invites people to stay and that makes a central [gathering] point of the campus.”

The project is currently in design development, and completion is anticipated in the summer of 2015. Donze designed the project with other architects from his firm—Wang Wensheng, Zhang Xu, and Wang Shuyi—but also worked on it independently.

Cite: Jones , Jenny. “Massive Library Planned For Chinese University” 2 Jul 2013. ASCE. Accessed 5 Jul 2013. <>

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