Shanghai Library East

From collection to connection

The design of the Shanghai Library East embraces the idea of ‘from collection to connection’ – it is a space to bring people together, a gift from the city to its citizens. While housing an impressive corpus of 4.8 m books, the majority of the space within the library is dedicated to community activities. The flexible, open environment of interconnected spaces allows for a wide range of activities that encourage interaction and foster connectivity among users. The Shanghai Library East offers a dynamic physical framework for events, lectures, seminars, performances, and exhibitions as well as hands-on activities to cater to a diverse range of users.

Libraries have long formed the backbone of many communities, acting as a third space between the home and workplace. The Shanghai Library East is part of the new generation of smart hybrid libraries, which, in addition to providing spaces for borrowing and reading books, also provide spaces for social interaction around art and culture.

To foster appreciation of cultural heritage and a strong sense of ownership and belonging, installation art was incorporated into the design of the library from the very beginning. The public artwork programme was curated by the international arts organisation UAP (Urban Art Projects) and rooted in the theme ‘Mediums: The Development of Writing’. Ten artists, both from China and abroad, were invited to contribute their own unique works of art, with the aim of inspiring readers, encouraging communication, and celebrating knowledge.

As a major cultural facility in the world’s third most populous city, and an estimate of 4 million guests annually, the Shanghai Library East holds a significant position as a social and cultural gathering point. Through its aesthetics, functionality, cultural and ecological ambition, it is an accessible canvas for global visitors and local citizens to fill with life and culture.

Shanghai Library East heroshot libraries

The site is located in Shanghai, at the end of Shiji Boulevard. When we first looked at it, we were struck at how green the place is.

Shanghai Library East site overview libraries

The vicinity to Century Park, one of the largest areas of public green in Pudong, represents an unique opportunity of connecting the city with the nature.

Shanghai Library East Site Map Scale 1 20000 libraries

We hence propose to conceive the library as a destination within the park, that should almost appear to float above the trees.

Shanghai Library East sketch float libraries

In the same way that a Traditional Chinese garden would use artificial or strategically placed rocks as a focus, here the library itself is elevated against the greenery.

Shanghai Library East garden w stone ref libraries
Shanghai Library East Model pic10 libraries

The visitors will gradually discover the library between the trees when approaching it from distance.

Shanghai Library East sketch arrive libraries

The representation of a rock with its sedimentary strata is expressed in the glass facade.

Shanghai Library East stone reference libraries
Shanghai Library East exterior render libraries

Enhancing the idea of visual connections, we place one large scale window at different levels on each facade, towards the park and towards the city.

Shanghai Library East sketch libraries

At the heart of the library, the design places a grand void. This space steps over three levels and allows visitors to visually connect across all floors.

Shanghai Library East interior render libraries
Shanghai, China
Public Library
115,000 m²
Completed 2022
Shanghai Library, Pudong Government
2016, 1st prize, international competition
Structural Engineer:
Schlaich Bergermann Partner (Shanghai & Stuttgart)
Local Collaborating Architects:
Landscape Architect:
Climate & Environmental Engineer:
Transsolar (Munich)
Mechanical & Electrical Engineer:
Buro Happold (Beijing & London)
Facade Engineer:
Drees & Sommer (Shanghai & Suttgart)/DHD (Shanghai)
Other Collaborators
Urban Art Project (curators of public artwork programme), LEOX (lighting design), 2 x 4 (signage design)
RawVision, Tian FangFang, Chris Hardie

The Shanghai Library East is a civic landmark and cultural destination that stands as one of the world’s largest libraries. With more than 4 million visitors annually, it serves as a vital hub for art, culture, and technology-driven learning, representing the evolving role of modern libraries. Despite its forward-thinking approach, the library also pays homage to classical Chinese scholarship through its design, which is reminiscent of the scholar’s rock, the Taihu stone, a symbol of ancient literati, thus anchoring the modern building in Chinese history and tradition. Art has played a central role in the design, and ten contemporary artists from China and abroad were commissioned to create site-specific permanent installations.

The Shanghai Library East was a unique opportunity to reinterpret a cherished Chinese symbol through architecture and design. Taihu stones, or scholars’ rocks, served as muses for the Jin dynasty intelligentsia—sources of creative inspiration and meditation. They were prized for their abstract qualities, perforated surfaces, eroded hollows, and unique textures. In its architecture, interior design, and programming, Shanghai Library East evokes a scholar’s rock in a Chinese garden: a polyhedral stone enveloped in an emerald tree canopy; a naturally occurring network of interconnected interior spaces; a wellspring of knowledge, inquiry, and discovery. 

In ancient times, scholars would gather around Taihu stones, deriving inspiration from their edges, curvatures, canyons, and tunnels, which seemed to shift when viewed from different vantage points. Similarly, as visitors move about Shanghai Library East, their views of its interconnecting spaces shapeshift, revealing new perspectives and insights with each shift in vantage point.

Gongshi stone taihu stone purchased photo

The library’s exterior pays homage to printed literature through an even subtler symbolism. An abstract motif depicting 15 photographs of marble swirls “printed” onto the façade’s glass panels represents the library’s “cover.” Arranged in horizontal bands of varying transparency, these etched panels allow light to penetrate deep into the building, illuminating the space—and, like a good book, enlightening the mind.

01 US SHL RAWVISION studio Shanghai Library East
02 US SHL RAWVISION studio Shanghai Library East
Shanghai Library East library artwork - RAWVISION studio

Shanghai East is one of the largest new libraries in the world. Its primary function as a centre of art, culture, and technology-driven learning reflects the modern library’s rapidly changing raison d’être.

Shanghai Library East SHL artwork by Simon Ma - Be With You - Photo by Raw Vision

Although it houses 4.8 million books, Shanghai East will also host more than 1,200 lectures, seminars, performances, events, and hands-on activities for upward of 4 million visitors annually. This panoply of programs will be facilitated by 115,000 square meters of open, flexible, and interconnected environments.