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Beijing City Library

A Landscape for Learning


Beijing  City Library
By Caterina Testa -

Following on from the library it designed in Alexandria, Egypt, Snøhetta has now realized the world’s largest library, this time in Beijing. Opened to the public in early 2024, Beijing City Library also boasts one of the world’s largest, most articulated interiors whose many facilities make it the cultural center for a vast area in an eastern district of the metropolis now undergoing development.

The project started in 2018 when Snøhetta, together with its local partner ECADI, entered the competition to design an extensive masterplan for the area’s cultural district. Although different decisions were taken on the masterplan, Snøhetta was commissioned to design the library. Located in proximity to a former industrial site earmarked to become a huge public park running along the banks of one of Beijing’s oldest and busiest canals, the cultural center, of which the library is a part, will serve the new administrative district now under development. 

Right from the outset, a key design goal was to create a library that would be a public space for learning, exchange and celebrating the city’s cultural, historical, artistic and scientific heritage. Underpinning this design approach was an awareness that for the Chinese, culture and nature are intimately linked. In the Chinese tradition, reading and studying are often conceived as ideally conducted in a natural, bucolic setting. Taking its cue from this tradition, the practice designed a vast, sculpted and articulated “landscape for learning”. 

The library’s square footprint is defined by an equally square roof resembling the canopy of a ginkgo forest supported by soaring columns standing like so many tree trunks and housing mechanicals and equipment, such as climate control, lighting, acoustic comfort, and rainwater disposal systems.

The “forest floor” is a wide valley landscape, with...

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