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Inside China's new futuristic library

Maria Sergeeva
December 4, 2017

The Tianjin Binhai Library opened earlier this November, and book lovers from all across the world have been going crazy about the 'Eye of the Binhai'.

In the context of the project to provide a cultural district for the city Tianjin, Rotterdam-based architecture firm MVRDV together with the Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute (TUPDI), have designed China’s enormous new library as part of the city’s Binhai Cultural Center.

Here are the most interesting facts about this book lover's paradise.

It took only three years to build the library

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City which project and construction took almost 10 years. It took only three years to build the huge library covering 362,744 square feet of space, which is extremely fast as compared to other projects of the same scale. For example, it took almost 10 years to design and complete Guggenheim Museum.

Why is it called The 'Eye of the Binhai'

The library is nicknamed 'The Eye' because the sphere, which appears like an iris, can be seen from the exterior through an eye-shaped opening.

"The eye is a recognizable feature of the design visible from inside and outside but also a fully functioning atrium with a capacity of 110," an MVRDV spokesperson told CNN.

"We want to develop new typologies for all our cultural projects, a place that inspires users and also promotes and celebrates -- in this case -- reading," said MVRDV's spokesperson.

The first and second floors contain mainly lounge areas and reading rooms. The floors above have computer rooms, meeting rooms and office. There are also two rooftop patios.

Its giant bookshelves are more than just shelves

The massive bookshelves that contour the library's walls, rolling across the ceiling like waves, weren’t designed to hold books. Visitors can walk among them using them as steps, ascending upward and curving around a giant mirrored sphere, or as seats.

The angles and curves are meant to stimulate different uses of the space, such as reading, walking, meeting and discussing," Winy Maas, co-founder of MVRDV said in a press release. "Together they form the ‘eye’ of the building.

The books in the main hall are fake

Though some shelves contain stacks of books, others have printed aluminum plates

Despite the visual illusion, the bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Upon closer inspection, it turns out the thousands of books in the library's principle corridor are in fact rows with silk-screened aluminum sheets printed with the photos of various book spines, to imitate books which criticism was highly crtisized as soon as it was discovered.

Most of the real books on the shelves in the main hall were only displayed for the opening photo shoot, and have been moved to traditional reading rooms deeper in the library.

 We can only use the hall for the purposes for which it has been approved, so we cannot use it as a place to put books.”, the library’s deputy director, Liu Xiufeng, told Yahoo.

How to explain the decision to display fake books?

Local authorities have made this deicion to make the lack of books in the library less evident against MVRDV’s demands, according to spokeswoman Zhou Shuting.

Originally promising to house 1.2 million books, the library has didn’t reach the goal by its opening and  at 200,000, although it hopes to eventually reach that goal. Only about 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library.

As for the main hall, it is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

However, as the project became viral online, the number of visitors that the library receives reaches 15,000 every weekend, so MVRDV hopes to attend its initial objective of 1.2 million tomes.

The shelves turned out to be dangerous

The lack of books isn’t the Tianjin Binhai Library’s only problem.

The irregular white stairs, reaching from floor to ceiling, are actually a tripping hazards. The lack of contrast with the white color of the shelves and flooring and the irregular risers make it more likely for visitors to trip while climbing and descending.

Even though a guard stands in the room to caution visitors on the stairs, the risk of tripping and falling is still high as the library is receiving so many visitors, that even 10 guards would be enough.

“People trip a lot. Last week an old lady slipped and hit her head hard. There was blood,” a guard told Yahoo.

To avoid accidents, the library advises that readers under the age of 14, those who wear heels and those who aren't fit for hiking should avoid the book mountain.