A blue whale in Shanghai’s village-style school
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A blue whale in Shanghai’s village-style school

OPEN Architecture

A blue whale in Shanghai’s village-style school
By Redazione The Plan -

If asked to picture a school in their head, or remember their own, many people will see a single building that accommodates all the school’s different functions, from the library to the gym to the lunchroom. But there’s no reason that schools can’t change their physiognomy and become more flexible.

That’s precisely what the architects from OPEN Architecture set out to do with the School as Village project in Shanghai. Their idea was to break away from the current trend of school-as-megastructure, by relocating its different components into several smaller, distinctive buildings and create a village-like campus.

We take an in-depth look at the School as Village project in the new March issue, but here we’re offering a sneak preview of the Bibliotheater, the cultural epicenter of the entire project.


Founded by Li Hu and Huang Wenjing, OPEN Architecture is an international studio based in Beijing. From day-one, it has focused on design as a means of creating new balances between architecture. With this project, the practice looked at a string of preconceived ideas about schools and ended up turning many of them on their head.

As a whole, the School as Village project aims to get children involved within their community. The OPEN Architecture team interpreted the village concept in the sense of a spatial guide for a new vision of educational architecture.


The Bibliotheater, designed to spark children’s imaginations and encourage them to engage with the learning process, is not just a library but also a theater. Its design – in which some people see a blue whale, while others see an ocean liner – deliberately accentuates certain elements, such as its blue color, its sloping roof, the protruding skylights, and the porthole-shaped windows.

The theater, which requires less natural light but more acoustic insulation than the library, occupies the lower section of the building. The library, on the other hand, is located above it, with its reading spaces arranged at different levels, following the changing heights of the volumes of the theater below.

A sunken roof garden offers children an outdoor reading area and a breath of fresh air in good weather.

The Bibliotheater was conceived as a cultural center, not only for the school but also for the local community. Deliberately located near a secondary entrance to the school, the building can be used independently without interfering with the running of the school as a whole.

Architect: OPEN Architecture
Location: Shanghai, China
Year: 2020
Photography courtesy of OPEN Architecture

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