Contemporary cultural centre contains spectacular atrium with contoured book shelving system reaching to the ceiling

The eyeball-shaped auditorium within Tianjin Binhai Library is framed by an eye-shaped aperture in the double facade’s external wood louvres

Story by: Charles Moxham Photography by: Ossip van Duivenbode
Contemporary cultural centre contains spectacular atrium with contoured arch, architecture, building, daylighting, daytime, metropolitan area, structure, tourist attraction, gray
Contemporary cultural centre contains spectacular atrium with contoured book shelving system reaching to the ceiling

With the rise and ensuing saturation of the internet age, the need for libraries as conduits of information has seemed under threat. As it turns out, quite the opposite applies if this sculptural book depository in China is anything to go by.

Tianjin Binhai Library – designed by Danish architecture firm MVRDV in association with local architects Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute – is a 33,700m2 library and cultural centre that certainly doesn’t lack public presence.

The library has a luminous globe auditorium, resembling an eyeball, as a centrepiece of the open, three-level search hall at the heart of the five floor building. A round aperture in the floorplates above spills natural light directly onto the sphere.

And the giant central atrium is a spectacular sight in its own right – walled in dramatic floor-to-ceiling cascading bookcases. The angles and curves of the space are meant to stimulate different uses of the space, such as walking, meeting, discussing and of course reading. The capacious library has the capacity to hold a staggering 1.2 million books.


The terraced bookshelves create an interior, topographical, landscape with contour lines, or shelves, that also reach out and wrap around the façade, says Winy Maas, co-founder of MVRDV. 

“In this way, the stepped bookshelves inside are represented on the outside – with each shelf corresponding to an external louvre. The louvres filter excessive sunlight, while still creating a bright and evenly lit interior.”

As eye-catching from the outside as the inside, an oval opening punches through the side of the building, ‘visually propped open’ by the eyeball auditorium seen in the interior behind. The building itself sits within a sheltered gallery, topped with cathedral-like vaulted end arches.

As well as a mecca for anyone who loves books and reading, the building also contains extensive educational facilities, arrayed along the edges of the interior and accessed via the atrium. The ground and first floors consist primarily of reading rooms, books and lounge areas whilst the upper floors also include meeting rooms, offices, computer and audio rooms, and two rooftop patios. And underpinning the library’s public program, there are underground service spaces, extensive book storage facilities, and a large archive.“

Tianjin Library is part of German architects GMP’s 120,000m2 masterplan, which aims to accentuate the characteristics of the surrounding districts,” says Maas. “Through its design, the cultural complex is a symbolic junction point for the CBD, the old sector of the city, residential districts, commercial areas and the government quarter.” 

The futuristic library is surrounded by four other cultural buildings. These were designed by an international team of architects, including Bernard Tschumi Architects and Bing Thom Architects. All five buildings are connected by a public walkway underneath a glass canopy designed by GMP. Working with the GMP masterplan, MVRDV was given a strict volume within which all the library’s design elements were concentrated.

The library is MVRDV’s most fast track project to date. It took just three years from first sketch to public opening. Due to the set completion date, site excavation immediately followed the design phase. 

The construction method was eye-opening in its own right – included the raising of the central upper floors en masse supported by the end sections. This made for quite a sight as the bulk of the library literally inched skyward. However, the tight construction schedule meant one essential part of the concept had to be dropped: access to the upper bookshelves from rooms placed behind the atrium. This required change – made locally and against MVRDV’s advice – rendered access to the upper shelves in the atrium space impossible. 

The full vision for the library may still be realised in the future. However, until then, perforated aluminium plates printed to represent books feature on the upper shelves. Cleaning is done via ropes and movable scaffolding.Tianjin Binhai Library was built according to the Chinese Green Star energy efficiency rating and has achieved a silver status.

May 09, 2018

Credit list

Tianjin Binhai Library, China
Interior architect
TADI interior architects
Civil engineer
TAUPD & Sanjing structural design Co
Earthworks, landscaping, public area lighting design
Concrete floor steel bar truss deck by GMP
‘Eye’ auditorium cladding
Lift services
MVRDV and Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute
Structural design
Sanjiang Steel Structure Design
Lighting design
Huayi Jianyuan Lighting Design
Control system design, fire consultant
Glass curtain, wooden louvres
Cementitious self-leveling mortar





Similar stories

The Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid

If it's ever constructed, the Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid in Tokyo Bay will stand over 2,000 metres tall and contain enough living space to house 750,000 Read more

Belgian fire station

This modern fire station was designed with preparedness and response in mind. There's easy access to the motorway and extensive training areas Read more

Mecanoo’s new Palace of Justice in Córdoba

Developed in collaboration with engineering practice Ayesa, this new structure celebrates the city's heritage Read more

Latest books

Home Trends 3403

The design of our homes – new or renovated – should be an individualistic response to our lifestyle, family set-up and budget. But there are also common requirements we should all aim for – a balance of public and private space... Read more

Home Trends 3307

While we might all have ideas for the home design that we want, consulting a good architect or designer will also open us up to other design possibilities that we haven't thought of.To help get you started on creating the home ... Read more

Home Trends 3306

Renovating a tired and dated kitchen will not only add to your enjoyment of cooking – it can also totally transform the way you use all of your living spaces, indoors and out. But where do you start and what's actually possible... Read more

Related profiles


Home kitchen bathroom commercial design Read more

Fairview Windows & Doors

For almost 50 years, we’ve helped thousands of Kiwis make the most of their homes and living spaces. We’re proud to call New Zealand home. Read more