The World’s Largest Open-stack Public Library: Guangzhou Library (China)

The World’s Largest Open-stack Public Library: Guangzhou Library (China)

December 5, 2013


Guangzhou Library is a large-scale library boasting a total floor space of about 100,000 m2 and a collection of some 4 million books. The design for the library was selected at an international architectural design competition held in 2005, and the building celebrated its grand opening in June this year. It has been thronged with crowds every day since its opening, welcoming over 10,000 visitors daily.

The library is located in a corner of the cultural zone in Guangzhou’s Zhujiang New City district. On neighboring sites are facilities such as the Guangdong Museum, Guangzhou Opera House, Children’s Palace, and an urban park. As the final facility to be constructed to complete the cultural zone, the design not only aimed to harmonize with the other existing plans in order to heighten the overall attraction of the new cultural zone, but to also create a dynamic and open facility that breaks away from the traditional, static and closed image of large-scale libraries.

The main characteristic of this library is that it provides the public with direct access to shelves holding some 3.5 million books, making it the world’s largest open-stack public library. Along with an open and soft design that makes the library a place that citizens can “enjoy using as an integral part of their lives,” it has an approachable layout with a large atrium in continuity with an urban park.

The structure’s role as a “collection of knowledge” is expressed through a random masonry-like exterior facade that invokes an image of a pile of books. The deeply chiseled exterior achieved through stone pitching is also effective in preventing Guangzhou’s strong sunlight from directly entering the reading rooms. In the center of the building is an atrium that cuts across the structure from east to west. This atrium delivers natural light from the skylights to each of the floors, and accomplishes an ecological role as a passageway for natural ventilation throughout the whole building.



The layout of the interior is more akin to that of a large department store than a library. The enormous size of the facility led to the design of a large atrium that provides good visibility for patrons to quickly grasp where things are located. From the atrium, they can reach the books they seek by using escalators or observation elevators. The 10-story building has books and videos arranged by genres such as general books, foreign books, children books, Chinese classics, multi-media, and cinema, in a manner that resembles specialty shop arcades. Visitors can enjoy strolling around the facility and browsing the books as if they are going shopping.


With advancements in the Internet and progress in digital technology, the “information” environment is undergoing a sea change. It could be said that this is precisely why it will become even more important for people to come in touch with the “real thing,” experiencing the weight, feel, color, and the smell of ink that only real books can provide. This library aims to be a treasure house of knowledge, where people can perceive the real world, not a virtual one.

Hiroshi Miyakawa (Design Fellow, Nikken Sekkei)

miyakawa[1]China, as it continues to develop rapidly, is a veritable cornucopia of non-standard projects that are beyond our imagination. The conditions for the design of this library were also unprecedented, with the need to place 3.5 million books on open stacks for people to browse. What kind of form should this large open-stack public library take? How do we satisfy demands for functionality as a library, an intuitive layout and comfort from the standpoint of the users, structural safety, and environmental performance? We compiled the design by discussing these matters with the parties concerned. Since it was a complex building, it was quite a difficult birth, but seeing how popular it has become among the public since its opening, it all seems worthwhile, and I am glad to see that the original design concept has been achieved.

Naoto Noguchi (Chief, Architectural Design Department, Nikken Sekkei)

001[1]When you turn the pages of a book, on one page you find a rhythmical arrangement of letters, and another page, photographs in an array of colors. One book is a composed description of history, another a narrative of longings for the infinite realms of outer space. These different aspects are folded within the pages that form the weight and thickness of the books lining the shelves. Just like turning and viewing the pages of a book, in this library spaces appear where you can view a variety of bookshelves. By strolling around the library, I hope visitors will enjoy another kind of reading experience, one on a meta-level.

Zhang Jian (PM Section, Nikken Sekkei China)

zj[1]People tend to associate libraries with a hard box-like image, but in this project, in addition to the essential functions of a library, we were strongly requested to deliver added value in the form of a space providing recreation and relaxation for the public. The building was completed after many complications and was far behind its original planned schedule for completion. By sharing a common goal with our local partners, we were able to overcome many various difficulties in not only the design aspects, but especially with regard to onsite coordination. I now view this as a memorable experience. The library has been completed in a form that we can see, and I am looking forward to its future. But I also wish to always cherish the bonds that were built during this process with the many parties concerned.



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