Tianjin’s new library looks out of this world

(CNN) — The hottest new tourist attraction in Tianjin, China?

A public library.

But this ain’t your average book lender.

Featuring an all-white futuristic design and a luminous spherical auditorium, the new 33,700-square-meter structure has been attracting bumper crowds since it opened in October.

Tianjin Binhai Library is one of the five main attractions in the Binhai Cultural Center, the city’s new recreational district.

‘The eye’ and a ‘book mountain’

Binhai Library is also nicknamed The Eye.

courtesy Ossip van Duivenbode

The eye-shaped atrium space of the library is designed to be a “new urban living room,” says Dutch architect firm MVRDV, which devised it alongside Tianjin’s Urban Planning Design Institute.

“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 tells CNN.

The curvy contours surrounding the auditorium house bookshelves. There’s a “book mountain” that also acts as stairs and seating.

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.

Why build a library that requires a mini-workout?

“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,” says MVRDV’s spokesperson.

A popular attraction

Architecture firm MVRDV wants to create an urban living room for Tianjin.

courtesy Ossip van Duivenbode

When pictures of the library, dubbed the “most beautiful library in China,” were shared on social media sites, thousands of visitors flocked to see the new landmark.

Queues stretch outside the library at weekends.

The library received about 10,000 visitors per day during the first week of opening and has welcomed up to 18,000 visitors on some weekends.

It’s not the first MVRDV project to win over the internet. Some of its previous works include the whimsical Suffolk’s Balancing Barn and Rotterdam’s Market Hall, which have also become popular Instagram spots.

But this project is MVRDV’s fastest to date.

It took just three years to build — from the first sketch to the opening — due to a tight construction schedule set by local officials.

Because of that, the firm was forced to give up one of its original designs: access to the upper bookshelves from rooms placed behind the atrium.

The bookshelves closer to the ceiling are now inaccessible and are replaced by perforated aluminum plates instead.

Visitors have also complained about the lack of actual books in the atrium.

Most of the shelves in the atrium are plastered with images of book spines instead of actual books. Visitors have to head to the more traditional sections of the library for the real thing.

In a beautiful cross-pollination of the arts, one of the world’s most stunning places to read isn’t even a library — it’s a theater in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Designed by Pero and Torres Arngol, the El Ateneo Grand Splendid started life as a stage for the performing arts in 1919, then a cinema. Once upon a time live tango played from an orchestra underneath silent movies. Now it’s a majestic bookstore, complete with frescoes, balconies and original red curtains.

Niels Mickers

Binhai Cultural Center

The new Binhai Cultural Center, spanning 90 hectares, is a major project initiated by the Tianjin government to showcase the city’s cultural power and boost tourism.

Phase one of the Central Center was open to the public last month, together with the library.

The four other cultural buildings are the Binhai Modern Art Museum, the Binhai Modern City and Industrial Discovery Museum, the Binhai Performing Arts Center and the Binhai Performing Arts Center — all designed by famed firms including Bernard Tschumi Architects, Bing Thom Architects and HH Design.

The buildings are connected by a public corridor with a glass canopy designed by GMP.

Want to check it out yourself? Tianjin, a major port city in northeast China, is about 115 kilometers from Beijing. High-speed trains, which operate regularly between the two cities, cover the distance in about 35 minutes.

Binhai Library, Tianjin Binhai Cultural Center, Tianjin; opens Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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