New library to have more open space for public use

Scottish architect talks about new iconic project in Shanghai and its relevance to the city and the environment.
Ti Gong

Chris Hardie, a partner with Denmark-based architecture firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen

Denmark-based international architectural firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen (SHL) has designed the Shanghai Library’s east branch in the Pudong New Area that is set to open in 2020.

On the sidelines of BAU Congress China 2017, a specialized conference on architecture, Chris Hardie, a partner with SHL, spoke about the relevance of Scandinavian design in the modern world: Their buildings are often white, wooden colors or transparent, with wide and open spaces for people to enjoy.

“This (Shanghai Library’s east branch) is a very important project for us,” the Scottish architect says. “We have been in China for nearly a decade and have done several projects in different cities. But the library is one of the most complicated one. There are a lot of things we want to convey through this building.”

Hardie believes that modern libraries are no longer about books, but about people who use the library for social needs or relaxation. That is why the new one will be very different from the existing Shanghai Library in Xuhui District.

“Only about 20 percent of the Shanghai Library building is open to the public. The tall tower is mostly for storage and the public does not have access to it except for the lower levels which are reserved for reading,” he says. “It is hard to find a seat there sometimes.”

The new library, however, will have a different perspective. The open space for the public in the new library will be of a higher percentage. SHL has the relevant experience having designed libraries around the world over the past two decades, including the State Library Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, and the Christchurch Central Library in New Zealand, which is part of the city’s restoration project after it was hit by a massive earthquake in 2011.

“With more and more experience you realize that people are the most significant part of our work,” says Hardie. “There will be 4-5 million books, but there will also be spaces for lectures and programs, where you can discover new ways of learning and reading, and spaces for activities.”

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An artist's rendition of Shanghai Library's east branch in Pudong

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The new library in Pudong will be a place not only for people to enjoy reading or carrying out research, but also to make social contacts, or simply to relax.

“We think of the library as the last free public space,” he says. “It can be a park, a church, maybe, or perhaps an art museum. It is a place where you can just be there, where no one stipulates how long you can stay or dictates how you use it.”

To create such an environment, the library has adopted the firm’s iconic style — grand public spaces, as well as transparent glass panels and light-colored walls that will enhance illumination and create layers of space.

The location of the library was also included in the design concept. As it is near the Century Park, the biggest park in the city, and several museums and theaters, Hardie thought over the role of the library in the area.

“We saw the area as a traditional Chinese garden with the library playing the role of rockery in it,” says the architect.

Hardie says he was glad to work with the Shanghai Library and the Pudong New Area government, as they share the same concept about how the library should function.

Hardie says after they won the bidding, Dr Wu Jianzhong, director of Shanghai Library, visited them at their office and presented them a book that he had written. Hardie read the back cover first and found a line that basically said that the future of the library had to move from the importance of collecting books to the importance of people.

“This is something we talk about all the time ─ what we call ‘from collection to connection’,” Hardie says. “At that time we realized that it was a perfect synergy between the architect and the client.”

Apart from the library, Hardie and SHL have been doing numerous projects around China, including a new 1,800-seat theater called Dream Center and a private art museum at West Bund in Shanghai, the building for Ningbo Daily, a cultural venue for the Ningbo Trade Union and the new Central Library in Ningbo.

“We are deeply committed to the Nordic architectural traditions based on its aesthetics, light, sustainability and social responsibility,” says Hardie. “We believe that we could bring the ‘Danish happiness’ here through our architecture.”

Marc Goodwin / Ti Gong

The building that will house Ningbo Daily

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