Wood in architecture
Beijing || China
Over recent decades China has undergone frenetic far-reaching changes. The inflow of investments into the cities has been especially massive, leading to successive waves of demolition and new urban expansion. The little library at LiYuan designed by the Li Xiaodong Atelier has all the appearance of taking a brave stand against this apparently unstoppable headlong dash. Everything about the project, from its programme and position to the materials and distribution circuit, is geared to creating a place of contemplative tranquillity in deliberate defiance of the hectic pace of modern-day China.
The little library is located on the edge of the village of Jiaojiehe, within walking distance for its inhabitants and a couple of hours’ drive from the bustle of Beijing. From the choice of site onwards, it has been conceived not just as providing a book-lending community service but as offering quiet, highly personal space and moments: after a short walk outside the village, the library visitor can enjoy a period of communing with self and nature. Everything - materials, colour palette, and construction techniques - are all designed to blend this little construction into its natural surrounds, allowing it to dematerialize to the point of dissolving the point of demarcation between exterior and interior. The utter simplicity of the parallelepiped structure, mimicking ancient Chinese rural houses built with the few materials nature offered, only apparently foregoes any semblance of architectural design. The irregular wooden sticks creating a filter between inside and out were harvested from nearby woodland. Recalling the firewood collected by the locals and stacked against their houses, they are here held together on a burnished steel frame. The entrance to the reading room is below the natural ground level and reached by a terrace over water that runs right up to the rock on which the whole building stands. Inside, a series of different levels mark out the different functional areas on a seamless groundplan. Light-coloured wooden slats clad the floors and wooden lattice structures line walls and ceiling. On the walls, these transom and mullion frames serve as bookshelves and windows giving views onto the natural landscape. Defused light filters inside through the irregularly textured façade shielding the glazing. The little library of LiYuan represents a major break with what’s going on in contemporary China. The simple programme in the midst of nature turns its back on relentless urban life; its very raison d’être - reading and thinking - demands a slower, more humane pace where human life and respect for place are once again essential values.
Architects: Li Xiaodong Atelier
Photography: © Li Xiaodong