Facade Exterior

© Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Completed in 2020 by Chinese Architecture firm OPEN Architecture, Pinghe Bibliotheater is a school in Shangai with an extensive program that has been “deconstructed” to form a village-like campus for the young students. The building – sometimes referred to as the “blue whale” for its characteristic shape –  includes a library and a theater.

Pinghe Bibliotheater Technical Information

When we were given the extensive and jumbled-together program of a new school for 2000 students, the immediate reaction was how dreadful it would be for a kid spending these many years fixed in one building. We decided to break away from the current trend of school-as-megastructure. Instead, the original program was deconstructed and grouped into many smaller and distinctive buildings, forming a village-like campus.

– OPEN Architects

Pinghe Bibliotheater Photographs
Exterior Facade and Roof Blue whale - Pinghe Bibliotheater in Shangai / OPEN Architecture

© Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Facade Detail

© Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Theater Interior - Pinghe Bibliotheater in Shangai / OPEN Architecture

© Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Theater detail - Pinghe Bibliotheater in Shangai / OPEN Architecture

© Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Library Interior- Pinghe Bibliotheater in Shangai / OPEN Architecture

© Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Library Furniture- Pinghe Bibliotheater in Shangai / OPEN Architecture

© Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Interior Wood- Pinghe Bibliotheater in Shangai / OPEN Architecture

© Jonathan Leijonhufvud

© Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Text by the Architects

A library, a theater, and a black box interlock together like a Chinese puzzle to form this characteristic building that some call ‘the blue whale’ while others see it as an ocean liner. The unique form of the building and the free-flowing spaces cultivate the students’ interests in reading and performing and encourage their imagination to roam freely in the ocean of knowledge.

The Bibliotheater abuts an important corner of this school-village, at a junction near which a major city highway and an ancient canal also meet. The slanted roof with spiky skylights, ship portholes like round windows, and eye-catching blue color leave a strong impression on passersby.

When we were given the extensive and jumbled-together program of a new school for 2000 students aged from 3 to 18 years, the immediate reaction was how dreadful it would be for a kid spending these many years fixed in one building. We decided to break away from the current trend of school-as-megastructure. Instead, the original program was deconstructed and grouped into many smaller and distinctive buildings, forming a village-like campus. The marriage of library and theater came from the architect’s belief that the act of extensive reading and thinking, and the act of expression through performances, should be critical components of education but are often ignored in test-driven educational systems. The distinctive qualities of these two programs and the respective physical needs came to inspire the building’s design.

Above and Below

The proscenium theater and the black box, which require the least natural light and the most acoustic isolation, occupy the lower part and the building’s deep central area. In contrast, the library occupies the upper part. A loop of different reading spaces rises and drops according to the theater volumes’ varying heights below, creating a terraced spatial sequence that climaxes at a central reading area surrounded by books and light.

Introvert and Extrovert

The experience of reading is inevitably introverted and highly personal. Facing readers from early years to young adults, the architect created many comfortable reading zones of different qualities. A sunken roof garden gives kids breathes of fresh air and an outdoor reading area when weather permits.

The experience of performing in theaters, on the other hand, is extroverted and exciting. The theater’s main entrance is where the building is ‘cut’ diagonally to form a theatrical opening. The juxtaposition of warm wood panels and deep blue walls create a visually stimulating auditorium. The café on the ground floor also plays an important role. During normal school days, parents waiting to pick up kids can read and socialize there.

Lightness and Darkness

Light is crucial to the library’s design, not only fulfilling the functional needs but also giving form to the spaces and animating them with musical rhythm. Abundant skylights on the slanted roof bring filtered light to the central reading area, a giant oculus dropping down from the ceiling illuminates the very center in an almost spiritual way, forming an emotionally charged central space. While in the theater, natural light is avoided entirely, and artificial lighting was carefully designed to meet functional requirements.

In a sense, the Bibilotheater was conceived more broadly as a cultural center for the school and the surrounding communities. Carefully placed near the campus’s secondary entrance, the building may be used independently without disturbing the campus management. The architect hoped that the Bibliotheater would become the social energizer that brings together parents and community members.

Pinghe Bibliotheater Plans
Floor Plan - Pinghe Bibliotheater in Shangai / OPEN Architecture

Floor Plan | © Open Architecture

Section - Pinghe Bibliotheater in Shangai / OPEN Architecture

Section | © Open Architecture

Pinghe Bibliotheater Image Gallery
About OPEN Architecture

OPEN was founded by LI Hu and HUANG Wenjing in New York City. It established its Beijing office in 2008. They are a passionate team of designers who believe in architecture’s innovative power to transform people and the way they live while striking a new balance between human-made and nature.

  1. Architecture and Interior Design: OPEN Architecture

  2. Principals in Charge: LI Hu, HUANG Wenjing

  3. 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

  4. Local Design Institute: Shanghai Yuangou Architects and Consultants

  5. Structural and MEP Consultant: CABR Technology Co., Ltd.

  6. Curtain Wall Consultant: CABR Technology Co., Ltd.

  7. Theater/Acoustic Consultant: Shanghai Net Culture Development Co., Ltd.

  8. Lighting Consultant: Shanghai Modern Architecture Decoration Environmental Design Research Institute Co., Ltd.

Cite this article: "Pinghe Bibliotheater in Shangai / OPEN Architecture" in ArchEyes, January 29, 2021, https://archeyes.com/pinghe-bibliotheater-in-shangai-open-architecture/.