For the largest city in China, comprising 30 million inhabitants and more than 3,000 years of history, a new library had to be much more than just a collection of books. Chongqing, often called “mountain city” for its majestic natural features and geography, realized this early on in its plan to develop a world-class library.
Perkins Eastman’s design for the new Chongqing Library, a stunning 540,000 sf urban complex, evolved from a central idea of expressing the freedom and importance of knowledge. Conceived as a cultural and civic icon, the library goes beyond the notion that a library is simply a repository for books-incorporating a concert hall, gallery space, conference facilities, restaurant, and a hotel for visiting scholars.
The building is sheathed almost entirely in glass, providing transparency for the functions inside and reinforcing the notion that knowledge and ideas must be shared. The design team developed a dot pattern for the glass to mitigate heat gain and glare, and text comprising quotes from famous scholars throughout history is layered over the pattern. From world leaders including Chairman mao Tse-Tung and president Theodore roosevelt to renowned philosophers including Socrates and Confucius, the inscribed text idealizes the profound impact of life-long learning on individuals and society-the empowerment of ideas expressed through words.
The building is organized around a central courtyard form, which is a motif found throughout Chinese architectural tradition. This courtyard, however, is formed one level below the street and is an open-air landscaped forest, providing a green oasis in the middle of one of China’s fastest growing cities. While the courtyard can be seen by the public at street level, it is accessible only from the reading rooms-reserved for use by the library’s readers. Separating visitors from the court, a sculptural refecting pool gently cascades into the courtyard.
The merging of building, water, and forest is emblematic of the city, which is at the confuence of two major rivers that form forested hillsides surrounding the city. Both interior and exterior fnishes artfully reference the colors and textures of Chongqing, a blending of inside and outside, traditional and modern. native stone, representative of the older structures found in the region, plays a prominent role in the interior lobby, public spaces, courtyard, and the exterior walls. The Y columns in the courtyard level reading rooms are topped with curved tree-like canopies.