OPEN Architecture: Pinghe Bibliotheater in Shanghai


The Shanghai Pinghe is a building designed by OPEN Architecture combining two normally separate functions, a library and a theater, as part of the “The school as a village” project.
The new building, designed to bring art and culture together, is an essential part of a 50,000 square meter master plan for a new school campus. OPEN Architecture reviews the context of the project and its approach: “China’s recent economic progress and relative scarcity of good educational resources have sparked a frenzied rush to build ever larger new schools. With accelerated design and construction schedules, this new wave of educational buildings often looks more like efficient office parks. As schools, they offer a practical solution to the problems of mass education but care little for the needs of young students who experience the physical world differently at different stages of their lives.
The school district in question is located in a large residential area in the east of the city which has a large number of users, approximately 2000 students between 3 and 18 years old. The primary objective is therefore to offer children and adolescents a specific place that they can associate with each age group, giving their school experience physical and spatial connotations. Inspired by the African proverb “it takes a whole village to raise a child”, OPEN has decided to break with the dominant model of the school as a megastructurebreaking down the initial program into several small buildings with easily recognizable shapes for children, surrounded by greenery, forming a very varied and stimulating educational campus in the shape of a village.
The centers of the complex include classrooms, administrative offices, laboratories, a dormitory, a kindergarten, and buildings for sports and the arts. The most emblematic and innovative building is Pinghe Bibliotheater. The intention to combine very different, but equally important cultural experiences in the process of education, reading and performance, is in itself very innovative.
The Library is strategically positioned to serve both the school and the community. An enigmatically shaped compact concrete volume (described as “a bit like a whale, a bit like a transatlantic liner”), it stands in an important corner of the master plan, at the intersection between a heavily trafficked urban infrastructure and an old canal. Built on a triangular floor plan with rounded corners, it looks very different from different points of view. The sloping roof with its skylights, its round windows like portholes of ships and the blue walls make the building very attractive, destined to become a landmark.

The layout of the building is organized based on the concepts of open and wide space, free flows in line with the new conviction that open-mindedness comes partly through the visual gaze and exposure to multiple activities, encouraging the development of the imagination and experimentation. Due to intrinsic requirements, the largest room with 500 seats and the black room with 150 seats, which require darkness and sound insulation, are located on the ground floor and in the middle of the building, while the library occupies the level superior. A ring of different reading areas rises and falls according to the different heights of the theater volumes below, creating a spatial sequence on the terrace culminating in a well-lit reading area surrounded by books at the top. This underlines the importance of reading as a private moment, not only educational but playful, that a child or teenager can experience alone or in a group, with comfortable and free seats. This is the reason for using warm, comfortable wooden furniture, playful and colorful chairs, platforms and tables to sit and read or simply consult a reference book. A suspended garden which tomorrow will see trees emerging from the roof offers children a breath of fresh air and an open-air reading corner when the weather is nice. Natural lighting harmoniously complements the space, satisfying functional requirements while enriching the space with new details. Numerous skylights in the sloping roof, bring filtered daylight into the central reading area; a gigantic oculus “descending” from the ceiling illuminates the center in an almost spiritual way.
On the other hand, it’s clear from entry that the performance experience is outgoing and thrilling. The theater is accessible from the corner in which the building is “cut” diagonally, hinting at a scene opening. The wood cladding of this part of the building is paired with bright blue walls, creating a contrast that provides a prelude to the activity inside the theatre. The lobby and cafe are the outermost, sunny and bright spaces, acting as a buffer zone and introduction to the heart of the theatres. During normal school hours, parents can read and socialize here while waiting to pick up their children.
Pinghe Bibilotheater is also designed to be a cultural center, not only for the school, but for the community around it. Located near the secondary entrance to the campus, the building is designed on an urban scale for independent use of the school. The project expresses the idea that the school of the future can be a place for social interaction, accessible to the general public even outside of school hours “with the aim of using public resources more efficiently and contributing to the community as a whole.”

Mara Corradi

Architecture and interior design: OPEN Architecture
Main officials: LI Hu, HUANG Wenjing
Design team: YE Qing, SHI Bingjie, YANG Ling, TAN Qingjun, LU Di, Daijiro Nakayama, LIN Bihong, CHEN Xiuyuan, ZHOU Tingting, ZOU Xiaowei, LIU Xunfeng, LI Lingna
Local design institute: Shanghai Yuangou Architects and Consultants
Structural and MEP consultant: CABR Technology Co., Ltd.
Curtain wall consultant: CABR Technology Co., Ltd.
Theatre/acoustic consultant: Shanghai Net Culture Development Co., Ltd.
Lighting Consultant: Shanghai Modern Architecture Decoration Environmental Design Research Institute Co., Ltd.
Design year: 2016-2020
Completion: 2020
Customer: Shanghai Tixue Education and Technology Co., Ltd.
Building area: 5,372 m²
Site area: 2,312 m²
Location: Shanghai, China
Photos by: Jonathan Leijonhufvud (01-10), CHEN Hao (15-17), WU Qingshan (11-14)


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