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March 31, 2021

Making Waves with Shanghai’s Monumental Pinghe Bibliotheater

Housing both a library and theatre spaces, this new Bibliotheatre welcomes students into an ocean of knowledge.

In 2019, OPEN Architecture created an entire village of buildings for the Shanghai Pinghe International School, but the complex’s new Bibliotheater, which only opened last September, serves as its shining blue jewel. A towering structure with a subtle ocean theme, the building will serve as both a learning hub for the school’s two thousand students and a cultural centre for the surrounding community.

The creative design of the building itself serves as an inspiration for the students’ imaginations. Although the exterior was originally intended to resemble an ocean liner ship, covered in round portholes and with a slanted roof that makes it seem as though the ship is rising from the waves, many people also compared the design to a large blue whale. ‘We like the analogue of a blue whale,’ said OPEN Architecture co-founder Huang Wenjing, ‘the largest mammal on earth, with mysterious things inside the body’. The wonderous knowledge that awaits students inside the building is supported by the interior design, where a mixture of the same deep blue colours of the exterior alongside warm wood tones creates visually stimulating environments for learning.

The library and the theatres may seem like an odd pairing of spaces, given their competing needs for quiet study and loud performance, but for the designers at OPEN Architecture, this was a deliberate choice. In part, these differences actually work together rather practically: the theatres are in the centre of the ground floor, allowing for better control over light and sound, while the library sits around the theatre and continues to the upper floor, featuring a large ocular skylight and a sunken roof garden to provide bright reading light. The designers also wanted to draw attention to the similarities of the spaces, highlighting how the engaged reading in libraries and the expressive performances of theatre are both ‘critical components of education … often ignored in test-driven educational systems’.

A beautiful example of what can happen when architects break away from the current ‘school-as-megastructure’ trend, the Pinghe Bibliotheater has a fun yet functional design that will serve the local community for years to come. The team at OPEN Architecture embraced the creative thinking that children learn from reading and performing, building those values into the building’s very core.

For more modern architecture, check out our article on Zaha Hadid Architects’ Tower C in Shenzhen, China.

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