It's not unusual for bold Dutch design firm MVRDV to create strikingly experimental structures, after all this is the company to have given us everything from a transparent office tower to a house shaped like the letter "Y". Now it has delivered one of the most unique-looking libraries we've ever seen, the Tianjin Binhai Library.
The remarkable library, collaboratively designed with the Tianjin urban planning and design institute (TUPDI), is concentrated around a giant sphere that houses an auditorium. Viewed through an eye-shaped window in the building's facade, the auditorium appears as a pupil, with the design leading the library to become colloquially known as "the Eye of Binhai."
Surrounding this giant sphere are terraced bookshelves resembling a layered topographical map that continues upward into the ceiling.
"The Tianjin Binhai Library interior is almost cave-like, a continuous bookshelf," explains Winy Maas, co-founder of MVRDV.
As well as holding books, the undulating shelves act as both stairs and seating, allowing people to comprehensively inhabit the space. Maas describes the design as an "urban living room."
"The bookshelves are great spaces to sit and at the same time allow for access to the upper floors," Maas adds. "The angles and curves are meant to stimulate different uses of the space, such as reading, walking, meeting and discussing."
Our first question after seeing this impressive design was, "how does someone reach the books that are on the shelves near the roof?" Disappointingly it turns out the books on the upper shelves are fake aluminum plates. This was not the original intent of MVRDV's designers though. The initial plan was to build access to the upper shelf books from rooms placed behind them in the atrium. During construction this design aspect was cut, against the suggestions of MVRDV, resulting in no access to the upper shelves.
The entire building was constructed over just three years – from first sketch to public opening. And even with unusable upper shelves the library can hold a reported 1.2 million books. Ultimately, this is another fantastically odd architectural achievement from one of the more experimental large scale firms out there.