Design of University Libraries

by Liu Linzi, Yu Mengfei, Sun Chenxing and Zhu Xiaoyi –

University libraries have long been regarded as a symbol of educational excellence within the universities in China.As a reaction to this, some  universities spent considerable time and budget on their library building projects in order to attract prospective students. However, whether the design performs well in serving its real purpose – providing adequate academic environment for the students – still needs further investigation. This and other questions, made the design of university libraries well worth looking into. (Lui Linzi)


Wuhan University Library

The Old Library in Wuhan University was built between 1933 to 1935. It is around 4750m2 and comprises one main building with four separate wings offering what has come to be known as a “traditional” Chinese palace appearance. The crowning tower is provided with an octagonal roof; and there is a “Ting” (an ancient dynastic symbol in China) on the main eaves of the roof, working as a vent. The chimneys are decorated as if they are small pagodas attached to the roof. However, the interior space of the library is quite different as Western-style detailing – like arched doors and French windows – proliferate. This library is praised as an excellent work that exemplifies the fusion of Chinese and Western architecture design theory at that time.

In 2000, the New Library in Wuhan University was completed, while the old one became old and slightly tired, even though it still functions to this day. The Old Library has been preserved not only because it is the landmark of Wuhan University, but also because it had become a spiritual symbol of the university, bearing the weight of the history and the memory of the college.  (Mengfei Yu)



Soochow University, SIP, Suzhou

Based on the concept of a “blooming lotus” and using modern techniques and material to elaborate this unique shape, the library of Soochow University near Dushu Lake, Suzhou, is quite noticeable in this area.

Because of the preponderance of glass, it is said to resemble a crystal lotus planted on this land. Undoubtedly, it was also intended to be the landmark that it has become and a symbol of whole campus. It is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of building, with defenders suggesting that it is “an honest building”, reflecting the “purity of the lotus flower.” Whatever your attitudes to flora, many students wish to study here and so it seems that the design cannot be as alienating as some think.


Soochow University, SIP, Suzhou

In accordance with its hemispherical external shape, the interior space is divided into several ring-shaped storeys, which certainly provides a genuine drama for the occupants and users. However, from a functional perspective it is also a huge sacrifice of interior space for this aesthetic arrangement, which leads to the problem of insufficient room for books and self-study. Was it really worth it? Perhaps yes from experts, whereas no from students. But who are this library really designed for? (Chenxing. Sun)



Shantou University New Library

Shantou University New Library was completed in 2009. It is approximately 21,000 m2 and the design concept is intended to take the skill of Chinese book-binding and represent it in the elegant horizontality of the structure. The banding allows the space to tie in with the ChineseAcademy’s traditional spiritual garden philosophy. As a result,  the final design claims to show a “modern Chinese interpretation of the ancient knowledge of the box”. Many commentators state that this library is Asia’s most beautiful university libraries.

Shantou is located in the southern part of China. In the summer when it is very hot the proximity of the water means that the library’s interior temperature is one or two degrees lower than outside with refreshing cooling breezes. Daylight is collected into the centre and it is reported to be a genuinely energy-saving concept of environmental protection. (Zhu Xiaoyi)


To conclude, some university libraries in China (such as Wuhan University Library and Shantou University Library) had become much-loved by students. In these libraries, both aesthetic and practical aspects work well. However, other libraries like the Soochow University Library, although they have been designed to be landmarks of a university or even a district, there is something that leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe it is because the library has become secondary in the designer’s (or client’s) considerations. (Linzi. Liu)