Yamamoto’s Tianjin Library

 — by Shen Yue, Zhao Zhe, Gong Ruochen, William Pattison, Wang Weiping


Tianjin Library, which forms part of the wider city cultural centre, is located in Tianjin Hexi District, to the south-west of the main city.

Here, several writers ignore the horrid artificial grass on the balconies and express their opinion about this building and its civic surroundings.

Shen Yue:

Tianjin Library is a significant part of the overall architectural arts complex located around a central lake. Designed by Japanese architect, Riken Yamamoto, it has a concise repetitive external appearance in its exterior façade and materials, using predominantly glass and marble. The array of stone louvres was used for the façade design in order to maintain a somewhat light and transparent impression even while using a hard and heavy material.

Each marble vertical louvre is 90 x 150mm spaced at 190mm centres. As a consequence, part of internal space can be seen when viewed from the front while the façade appears to be a piece of unbroken marble if viewed at an angle. During the day, soft natural light enters the reading room through the gap of the marble and creates a comfortable space and atmosphere for reading. Nevertheless, the artificial lighting penetrates to the outside space at night for a cliched bit of ‘drama’. In general, the employment of marble louvres skillfully controls the light, guarantees privacy and gives the building a sense of solidity. (See Addendum below this main article)


Zhao Zhe:

Internally, even though the building is quite deep in plan form and and different layers of floors block some of the direct daylight passing into the inside space, the pure white interior walls play an extremely significant role to create the correct bright, peaceful, studious atmosphere in the library.

The inner walls comprise 600 x 340mm aluminium panels throughout, while huge windows allow sunlight to flow inside, reflected off the white panels throughout the whole library. Each panel grid, matching the shelves, unify the whole. Moreover, the architect has played with the light making the panels slightly concave and concex, enlivening the space with fine shading.

Gong Ruochen:

This is a comfortable library with a feeling of the centrality of its efficient administration. Here its basic design elements – the whole internal structure – uses just plain colours to control the field of view in a clean way. Moreover, the comprehensive reading space sit like terraces, with winding access to each progressive layer on the right, while the left has a semi-open leisure spaces. The main body of the building faces the entrance appears to be, what I can only describe as in “picturesque disorder”, which for me, creates a feeling that I want to explore.

Passing the circular reception area on the ground floor located at bottom of a white arch bridge wall, is a gigantic wall given over to the display of literature – a magnificent bookshelf.


William Pattison:

Tianjin’s trio of recently opened landmark buildings comprises a new cultural quarter which embodies the lofty ambitions of a rapidly developing city on an impressive – some might say – vastly ambitious – civic scale. The Library sits alongside a new Arts Centre and Museum to form a sequence of visually consistent blocks, each of which are broken up in a unique way. The distances between each is huge, creating so-called civic spaces that, at the moment at least, are relatively unoccupied. Even so, it is hard to imagine these spaces feeling human-scale, even at their busiest times. Let’s focus on the library.

An atrium drives a canyon though the centre of the library, bringing light deep into the building. This central lightwell is flanked by the library’s collections and tired reading rooms which are contained within cuboid forms, referencing the building’s external shape. Consequentially, a sense of openness and orientation is created when entering the building, in which one might otherwise easily be lost. Views inwards and across the voids are available throughout the whole space to help locate visitors and to provide clear vision to different departments; different book sections.

In spite of this, the void also creates access problems. In an effort to minimize on the obstruction of sunlight, the atrium is clumsily bridged resulting in long walks from one side to the other and many spaces – particularly at the higher levels, which can be difficult to navigate. The building’s apparent concept of volume and lightness is altogether lost in windowless computer rooms and bleak corridors whose design seems to have been overshadowed by the central space.

Tianjin Library is focused around a visually striking atrium, however, perhaps as a consequence of the wider masterplan’s requirement to squeeze three different civic typologies into an almost identical mass, many spaces feel neglected and bleak.

Wang Weiping:

The basic concept of this library is to use many enclosure walls (of 6m height and 20.4m length) to form various box volumes. These enclosures integrate with each other not only horizontally but also vertically. It is beneficial to divide different partitions and create dramatic space experience to the readers. What is more, as these enclosure walls can support each other, there are no columns inside the building.

Because of the flexibility of the structure, the spatial arrangement is most attractive. There is a huge lobby through the building’s two entrances, where most of the administrative services are located such as the service desk, exhibition hall, canteen and the reading room. The lobby also forms a notional courtyard inside above which are several book corridors and some enclosure walls are extended which increase the interest of the space.

The circulation design is clear and unique. The reading zone on the south area is special for its novel vertical circulation. There is a large staircase in the center of the space and other two elevators on the opposite walls, connecting the five floor vertically and clearly. Three floors are linked continuously by two large staircases. One staircase is just connected by another, so readers can go upstairs and downstairs conveniently. The upper floor has setback to the lower floor, increasing the layering of the space.



This information is taken from the website of Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s daily newspaper, entitled “China attracts top architects with its scale and design flexibility”by Tatsuo Kotoyori, The Asahi Shimbun GLOBE, 12 May 2012. It says of the Tianjin Library project:

“Yamamoto’s design was the winning entry in a competition held in 2009. The library’s entire exterior was to be covered in glass, but after his proposal was selected, the city’s leadership asked him to give it a stone finish instead. To bring out a glass-like “lightness” using stone, he came up with idea of attaching vertical stone louvers that jut out slightly from the outer walls. However, sometime in autumn 2011, members of the city’s leadership added louvres that were not part of the design on the grounds so that the building would look like it was still under construction, which had the effect of concealing the protruding elements”.