Pinghe Bibliotheater by OPEN Architecture

Pinghe Bibliotheater is the core of OPEN’s latest project—School as Village/Shanghai Qingpu Pinghe International School. A library, a theater, and a black box interlock together is called ‘the blue whale’ or an ‘ocean liner’ for its distinctive appearance. The unique form of the building and the free-flowing spaces not only cultivate the students’ interests in reading and performing, but also encourage their imagination to roam freely in the ocean of knowledge.


Bibliotheater south side
Photo credit: Credit Jonathan Leijonhufvud

The Bibliotheater abuts an important corner of this school-village, at a junction near which a major city highway and an ancient canal also meet. The slanted roof with spiky skylights, ship portholes like round windows, and eye-catching blue color leave a strong impression on passersby.


Round Windows and Skylights
Photo credit: Jonathan Leijonhufvud

When given the extensive and jumbled-together program of a new school for 2000 students aged from 3 to 18 years, the immediate reaction of OPEN was how dreadful it would be for a kid spending these many years fixed in one building. They decided to break away from the current trend of school-as-megastructure.  Instead, the original program was deconstructed and grouped into many smaller and distinctive buildings, forming a village-like campus.


Exterior Partial View
Photo credit: WU Qingshan

The marriage of library and theater came from the architect’s belief that the act of extensive reading and thinking, and the act of expression through performances, should be critical components of education but are often ignored in test-driven educational systems. The distinctive qualities of these two programs and the respective physical needs came to inspire the design of the building.

Above and Below

The proscenium theater and the black box, which require the least natural light and the most acoustic isolation, occupy the lower part and the deep central area of the building, while the library occupies the upper part. A loop of different reading spaces rises and drops according to the varying heights of the theater volumes below, creating a terraced spatial sequence that climaxes at a central reading area that is surrounded by books and light.


Spatial Diagram
Photo credit: OPEN Architecture

Introvert and Extrovert

As the experience of reading is inevitably introverted and highly personal, the architect created many comfortable reading zones of different qualities to fulfill readers from a wide range of ages. A sunken roof garden gives kids breathes of fresh air and an outdoor reading area when weather permits. On the other hand, the experience of performing in theaters, is extroverted and exciting. The main entrance to the theater is where the building is ‘cut’ diagonally to form a theatrical opening. The juxtaposition of warm wood panels and deep blue walls create a visually stimulating auditorium. The café on the ground floor also plays an important role as a socializing space for parents who wait to pick up kids during normal school days.


Rooftop Terrace
Photo credit: Jonathan Leijonhufvud


Theater Auditorium
Photo credit: WU Qingshan


Photo credit: WU Qingshan

Lightness and Darkness

Light is crucial to the design of the library. Abundant skylights on the slanted roof bring filtered light to the central reading area, a giant oculus dropping down from the ceiling illuminates the very center in an almost spiritual way, forming an emotionally charged central space. While in the theater, natural light is avoided entirely, and artificial lighting was carefully designed to meet functional requirements.


Central Reading Area
Photo credit: Jonathan Leijonhufvud


Central Reading Space
Photo credit: CHEN Hao

In a sense, the Bibilotheater was conceived more broadly as a cultural center for not only the school but also the surrounding communities. Carefully placed near the secondary entrance of the campus, the building may be used independently without disturbing the campus management.


Photo credit: CHEN Hao

About OPEN

OPEN was founded by LI Hu and HUANG Wenjing in New York City. It established its Beijing office in 2008. As a passionate team of designers collaborating across different disciplines to practice urban design, landscape design, architectural design, and interior design, as well as the research and production of design strategies in the context of new challenges, OPEN believes in the innovative power of architecture to transform people and the way they live while striking a new balance between manmade and nature.

"Pinghe Bibliotheater" Project Facts

Design Year 2016-2020
Program500 seated theater, 150 seated black-box theater, Library, Cafe
Building Area5,372㎡
Site Area2,312㎡
LocationShanghai, China