Tianin is a port city in northeastern China that mixes the architectural influence of 19th century Europe with modern icons like its 1,350-foot-tall Tianjin Radio and Television Tower. Now, the city has a new landmark that looks like it was teleported from the future: Tianjin Binhai Library, a breathtaking, 360,000-square-foot cultural temple designed by the Dutch architectural firm MVRDV.
Yet not all that glitters is gold. Inside this beautiful building, you’ll find an example of our collective need for instant gratification.
Around the building’s spherical auditorium, seemingly infinite curves flow in a space that feels impossibly vast, almost as if these white shelves filled with books existed in a different dimension thanks to a visual game of perspective and scale. Patrons walk through terraces to access the books that populate the open space, but how do they get to the books in the the upper levels? They don’t. Those books are just decoration–faux tomes made with perforated aluminum plates. It detracts from the impressive architecture, and MVRDV acknowledges this failure itself: “[T]he tight construction schedule [only three years from sketch to opening day] forced one essential part of the concept to be dropped: access to the upper bookshelves from rooms placed behind the atrium.” The company claims that its original vision “may be realized” at one point but until then, these fake books get cleaned “with ropes and movable scaffolding.”
Despite this form-over-function failure, the building is not useless. Sitting on a gallery “topped with cathedral-like vaulted arches,” the atrium is still a beautiful open space that contains some books, and the building includes five levels full of cultural facilities and real book storage space. The subterranean level contains service areas, book storage, and a big archive. The ground floor opens to the atrium, the reading areas for children and the elderly, and the central spherical auditorium. The first and second floors contain reading rooms, books, and lounge areas. And finally, the upper floors “include meeting rooms, offices, computer and audio rooms, and two rooftop patios.”
This cultural center is only the first piece of a much larger urbanism endeavor for Tianin, created by the German architectural firm GMP. Its 30-acre masterplan “aims to accentuate the characteristics of the surrounding districts . . . a junction point for the central business district, old town, residential districts, commercial areas, and the government quarter.” Hopefully, after the city completes it, it can find some money to finish MVRDV’s design and turn its faux-book atrium into a fully usable book cathedral.