Snøhetta Creates Library to Emulate Feeling of "Sitting Under a Tree"

International studio Snøhetta has completed Beijing City Library in China, a glass-lined building filled with towering tree-like columns and rooms disguised as hills.


Design Based on Natural Landscapes

Located in Beijing's Tongzhou district, the library was designed by Snøhetta to "reinstate the library's relevance in the 21st century" and aims to offer a "new vision" for the typology.

Its design is based on natural landscapes and prioritizes helping visitors to connect to the outside, enticing them away from their screens.

The terraced landscape and tree-like columns invite visitors to lift their gaze and focus at a distance, taking in the bigger picture. This is a place where you can be sitting under a tree, reading your favorite book.

Valley Atrium and Hill-like Mounds

The heart of Beijing City Library is Valley, a 16-meter-tall atrium filled with a series of hill-like mounds that are lined with tiered seating, stairs, and bookshelves. A winding walkway runs through its center.

The terraced hills rising from the Valley are designed to create a sculpted interior landform that serves as the ground, seating, and shelving – an informal zone with opportunities to relax, talk, or read quietly, all while staying connected to the larger space.

Beneath the hilly mounds are a series of private areas for reading and conferences, and parts of the mounds are flattened to house tables. Beijing City Library also incorporates spaces for performances and book restoration.

Tall Columns and Ginkgo Tree Canopy

One of the library's most notable details is its tall, slender columns that "mushroom into flat panels" at their peak to support the roof.

Snøhetta modeled these on the leaves of a ginkgo tree – a 290-million-year-old species that is native to China – to form a ceiling that resembles a canopy.

The columns have a modular design, developed to reduce material waste and integrate technologies such as lighting, acoustics, and rainwater collection. Outside, real ginkgo trees have been planted at the entry points, framed by the glass walls that aim to "further enhance the connection with nature".


Restoring the Importance of Libraries

Snøhetta hopes that the Beijing City Library project can help restore the importance of libraries as community spaces, rather than "a mere repository of books".

"It is the love people have for books that has made libraries survive the digital age and hold new potential to give back more to the city and its public," said the studio's co-founder Kjetil Trædal Thorsen.

"It is up to us to reinterpret the relationship between body, mind, and the surroundings to rekindle the joy of reading away from the screen. Libraries are here to stay."