About an architectural masterpiece for literature
By Mirjam Debora Marschall
A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. Architecture is a visual art, and the buildings speak for themselves. The Dutch architectural practice MVRDV has combined these two aspects effortlessly in one of its most daring projects, and opens up a new world of indulgence by designing a unique complex celebrating the book as cultural artefact.
Close your eyes. Imagine an all-white futuristic design, a luminous spherical auditorium with bookcases lining the walls while forming a staircase up to the top of the hall. If you reach out, your hands will touch the backs of millions of books sitting on shelves, waiting to be read. The further you climb the steps, the closer you get to a heaven of literature created by a superior architectural performance. No, this is not an illusion sentenced to remain in the land of dreams for all times. It is a beautiful reality highlighting the relationship between architectural design and urbanism in the 21st century. Since its opening in October 2017, the Tianjin Binhai Library as part of the Binhai Cultural Center has caused a global architectural stir. Due to its stunning design, it belongs to the most beautiful libraries worldwide and is dubbed the nicest design in China. Visitors are willing to travel long distances and queue for hours to see the newest attraction while engulfed in a dreamlike world of books, and be rendered speechless by its intelligent architecture.
As with all good things, its true treasure is hidden inside. The building’s mass extrudes upwards from the site and is anchored by a giant spherical structure in the centre of the space. Winy Maas, co-founder of the Rotterdam-based architecture and urban design practice MVRDV, describes the interior of the library as a cave-like, continuous bookshelf designed as a new urban living room. The floor-to-ceiling bookracks offer space to sit and be engulfed by books while at the same time allowing access to the upper floors. The angles and curves stimulate the different uses of the space including reading, meeting, walking and discussing. This continuing arrangement along the ceiling creates an illuminated topography. The contour continues along the two full glass facades and serves as a louvre to protect the interior against excessive sunlight while creating a bright and evenly lit indoor atmosphere. The visitors develop the sense of walking inside an eye. The illusion of the sphere appears like an iris and can be seen from the outside through an eye-shaped opening. This is the inspiration that has given the library the nickname “The Eye of Binhai”. A place where one sees and is seen.
The auditorium, the terraced access to the floors above and the connection to the cultural complex as well as reading areas for children and elderly can be easily accessed from the ground floor. On the first and second floors are primarily reading rooms, books and lounge areas. The upper floors house conference and audio rooms, offices, computer labs and two rooftop patios.
The five-level building comprises around 33,700 square metres and offers extensive educational facilities. These are situated along the edges of the interior and can be entered through the main atrium space. The library contains extensive educational facilities snuggled along the edges of the interior. They are accessed through the main atrium space. In addition, a large archive, book storage and service spaces top off the programme for the public.
The Tianjin Binhai Library is MVRDV’s most rapid fast-track project to date: It took only three years from the first sketch to its opening. Due to the given completion date, site excavation immediately followed the design phase. Access to the upper bookshelves from rooms placed behind the atrium as an essential part of the concept had to be dropped due to the tight construction schedule, and will be completed at a later date. Until then, perforated aluminium plates printed to represent books are installed on the upper shelves. The team has established itself with its experimental design in the first row of renowned architecture practices. Its signature recherché is the essential element, as seen in previously built projects which include the Netherlands Pavilion for the World EXPO 2000 in Hannover, the Unterföhring office campus near Munich, the Didden Village rooftop housing extension in Rotterdam, and the Market Hall, which is a combination of housing and retail in Rotterdam. Thereby, one characteristic dominates all projects: The progressive ideal of an urban future.
Since its early days, the founders Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries have been pursuing the fascination for radical, investigative and spatial research including the influence of architecture on the everyday lives of its inhabitants and users. This approach does consider sustainability as its backbone. Its days of being labelled as just hype or smart marketing are in the past. This revolutionary vision is indispensable because cities have become the heart of societies, cultures and economies in the urban age. However, many cannot meet the expectations. The motivation of MVRDV is to ensure quality and to motivate a change of current habits concerning consumption towards a more intelligent definition. Better and smarter buildings, urban environments and a positive balance between cities and nature make it easier to break the habit and to trigger alterations. This results in a high quality of life while creating value for cities and its inhabitants.
More than a hundred and fifty architects, designers and urbanists act in concert on projects worldwide to implement the buildings of an urban future. The multi-disciplinary design process of the different ventures include rigorous technical and creative investigation to achieve buildings with unique character envisioning the city of the future. Developing cities and landscapes towards a better future is also achieved by including clients, stakeholders as well as experts from a wide range of fields from the beginning in the research-based design process. The unique approach to design and work of MVRDV is exhibited worldwide and has received numerous international awards.
However, MVRDV’s sphere of action does not stop here. In cooperation with Delft University of Technology, it runs the The Why Factory. This independent research institute and thinktank was founded by Winy Maas, and supports the visualisation of prospective city models by developing an agenda for architecture and urbanism. It studies the future of urban development on a wide spectrum, including research and studio programs, development of potential alternatives as well as fundamentally questioning current architectural and urban issues. Each project of MVRDV has this economy-driven handwriting translated into exciting design solutions while capturing its inhabitants and users with its future-oriented charm, as proven by the Tianjin Binhai Library, which is one of the most prestigious projects in Asia.
After the completion of the TEDA Urban Fabric in 2009, the Tianjin Binhai Library is the second project of MVRDV completed in Tianjin, China. The futuristic library is part of a master plan to emphasise the characteristics of the surrounding districts designed by German architects GMP. In virtue of its unique design, the complex will become a junction point for different parts of the city including the old town, residential districts, commercial areas and the government quarter. Its outline was adopted to the masterplan. Therefore, the eye and its surrounding area function as a central internal space. This breathtaking library is enchanting with its bold and impressive design underlined with books as far as the eye can see: A true sea of knowledge treasured in the library of the future. Urban design at its best.
The library is one of MVRDV’s current impressive flagships proving that new typologies for each cultural project can be realised. It is a celebration and promotion of places which inspire users – in this case, everyone who has a passion for books – and underlines the importance of the relation between architectural design and urbanism. As a pioneer, MVRDV contributes towards a better future and the sound persistence of modern civilisation with the generation of outspoken projects.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin, issue Q1 2018. Picture credit © Ossip