A library, a theatre, and a black box interlock together like a Chinese puzzle to form this characteristic building that some call ‘the blue whale’ while others see as an ocean liner.
Designed by OPEN Architecture Studio, the slanted roof with spiky skylights, ship porthole-like round windows, and the eye-catching blue colour of this unique built form leave a strong impression on passers-by. Inside, the three functions – library, theatre and black box are characterised by free-flowing spaces that aim not just at cultivating students’ interests in reading and performing, but also encourage their imagination to roam freely in the ocean of knowledge.
Say the architects, “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.” So, the original program was deconstructed and grouped into many smaller and distinctive buildings, forming a village-like campus. The marriage of library and theatre 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 design of the building.
The main entrance to the theatre is where the building is ‘cut’ diagonally to form a theatrical opening. The juxtaposition of warm wood panels and deep blue walls creates a visually stimulating auditorium. The proscenium theatre and the black box, which require the least natural light and the most acoustic isolation, occupy the lower part and the deep central area of the building, while the library occupies the upper part. A loop of different reading spaces rises and drops according to the varying heights of the theatre volumes below, creating a terraced spatial sequence that climaxes at a central reading area that is surrounded by books and light. 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 centre in an almost spiritual way, forming an emotionally charged central space.
Facilitating readers from early years to young adults are many comfortable reading zones of different qualities including a sunken roof garden and an outdoor reading area. Further, a café on the ground floor serves as a social space for parents waiting to pick up their wards.
In a sense, the Bibliotheatre is conceived more broadly as a cultural centre for not only the school but also the surrounding communities. Carefully placed near the secondary entrance of the campus, the building may be used independently without disturbing the campus management.
Project Name: Pinghe Bibliotheatre
Client: Shanghai Tixue Education and Technology Co., Ltd.
Architecture and Interior Design: OPEN Architecture
Principals in Charge: 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
Program: 500 seated Theatre, 150 seated Black Box Theatre, Library, Café
Building Area: 5,372 sq. m.
Site Area: 2,312 sq. m.
Location: Shanghai, China
Photography Credits: Jonathan Leijonhufvud