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Liyuan Library – a Moriyama RAIC winner that integrates architecture with nature

JIAOJIEHE, China — Nestled among the shimmering chestnut, walnut and peach trees of a deep valley surrounded by craggy hills, the tiny village of Jiaojiehe suffers from being close to the nation’s capital. The young flee easily to the big city, leaving the elderly behind, lonely and poor.



In today’s China, villages like this often try to engineer a sense of well-being by opening a new medical clinic, say, or by upgrading the water supply.



But Li Xiaodong, an award-winning architect who fuses traditional Chinese ideas of design with Western themes, had a different idea for Jiojiehe. He was captivated by the potential he saw in the village’s most abundant natural resource, the branches of its thousands of trees, which the locals harvest for fuel.



So he built a library — with a twist. At its base, it is a steel and glass box in the vein of a Philip Johnson open-plan creation from the 1950s, but its exterior walls and roof are clad with fruit-tree twigs.

所以,他用这些树枝建了一座图书馆。这座图书馆并不像看上去那么简单,其底部是钢筋和玻璃材质的箱体结构,与菲力普·约翰逊(Philip Johnson)在上世纪50年代建造的开放式建筑颇为相似。不过,图书馆的外墙和屋顶上盖满了果树上采集来的树枝。


The spindly sticks are arranged in vertical rows, and their uneven shapes allow natural light to filter into the library’s reading room, while keeping the building cool in the summer and cozy in the winter. They also act as a kind of camouflage, making the library’s rectangular edges barely noticeable in the landscape as visitors approach the village on a narrow, twisting road.



The interior of the Liyuan library is basically just one large, casual room, lined with open bookshelves and an eclectic collection of works that include President Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope,” “Forrest Gump” and traditional Chinese novels about the Qing dynasty. There are no chairs or desks, just a polished wood floor with several elevated platforms where readers can lounge with their books.

篱苑书屋的内部基本上就是一个颇为随意的大开间,摆满开放式书架。其藏书可谓五花八门,既有奥巴马的《无畏的希望》(The Audacity of Hope),又有《阿甘正传》(Forrest Gump),还有关于清朝的中文小说。图书馆里没有桌子,也没有椅子,抛过光的木地板有好几个阶梯状的平台,读者可以坐在上面闲适地看书。


Meeting the reading needs of the roughly 50 households that remain in the village is something of a sideline, though. What the building is mainly meant to be is a magnet for day-trippers from Beijing, eager to escape the city’s perpetual smog and dirt for a bit of beauty and calm.



“The library is a tool to attract people to the village,” said Mr. Li, a professor of architecture at Tsinghua University in Beijing.



When visitors come to see the library, he said, they also spend money at the village’s few restaurants, pay parking fees and donate money for the building’s upkeep.



“The place is special,” said Li Wenli, 45, an insurance saleswoman from Beijing who sat in a corner of the reading room with a large book balanced on her knees as her 9-year-old son read along with her.



“In the city, a library seems to be unnaturally quiet,” she said. “You think: ‘I need to stay quiet because everybody else is quiet.’ But here, the peace is natural.”



The library has a presence on social media, and many of the visitors on the weekend are university students or young professionals. They wander around the village, snap photos of themselves and order the local delicacy, stewed chicken with chestnuts, at one of the restaurants.



And some of them actually read. Sun Liyang, 27, an automotive journalist, said a friend in Beijing had donated some books after hearing about the library online, and he decided to come for a look. “I am sitting here reading ‘The Adventures of Tintin,’ ” he said. “It’s taking me back to my childhood.”



Wang Fuying, 57, who used to grow crops in the area, is now the librarian, even though she can barely read. “All the library visitors are from the city,” she said. “We have up to 200 visitors a day over the weekend. They come for fun, take a look, take some pictures and take a walk.”



There are a few flaws. To preserve the wood floor, patrons must remove their shoes at the front door, but in the summer when there are many visitors, the reading room becomes smelly from all the socks, Ms. Wang said. The wood-burning fireplace looks like an inviting place for winter reading, but it was placed too close to the windows and has proved to be unusable.



But those are small things compared with the good the building has done for the village. Its two small restaurants “would have closed without the visitors,” Ms. Wang said.



Mr. Li, the architect, who is 52, graduated from Tsinghua University in 1984, in one of the first classes of young designers to emerge after the disaster of the Cultural Revolution. He went to the Netherlands to study the history and theory of site planning, received a doctorate in 1994 and taught in Singapore before returning to join the faculty of the lively architecture school at Tsinghua.



There he refines ideas that he said were influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, and are based on the tenet that buildings should be integral parts of the landscape and not objects placed in it.

他在那里完善了他的一些想法,他说这些想法受到了弗兰克·劳埃德·赖特(Frank Lloyd Wright)影响,基本原则是:建筑应该是自然环境不可分割的一部分,而不是放在环境中的一个物体。


“Chinese architecture is always drawn from a bird’s-eye view, never from the human eye,” he said. “We always think of architecture as one piece. We don’t see the human as detached from the environment.”



Mr. Li's projects in other parts of China where he has built small structures in rural areas — including a school built high over a creek — have won many prizes. But few honors seem to have pleased him more than last year’s Moriyama R.A.I.C. International Prize, named for the Canadian-Japanese architect Raymond Moriyama. It honors projects that are “transformative, inspired as well as inspiring, and emblematic of the human values of respect and inclusiveness.”

李晓东在中国其他地方的农村地区建造了一些小型建筑。他在这些地方的项目——其中包括一所建在一条小河上的学校——获了很多奖项。但去年的“森山-加拿大皇家建筑协会国际奖”(Moriyama R.A.I.C. International Prize)似乎格外让他开心。该奖以加拿大籍日裔建筑师雷蒙·森山(Raymond Moriyama)命名,表彰那些“具有变革性、创造性和启发性,而且能体现人类价值观的尊重与包容的”项目。


On a recent weekend, Mr. Moriyama, 85, was one of the visitors to the library. He liked what he saw. “I was so happy this particular project won,” he said. “It was all about picking one that represents service to the people. The sense of humanity of the library is so great.”



The older architect patted Mr. Li on the back. “You did good,” he said. “I was not on the jury, and quite often, I disagree with the jury. But in this case, I believe it was 150 percent right.”



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