Shanghai Library East Hall

(Shanghai Library East Hall)

Shanghai, China

Completion Date
Competition entry

Shanghai Pudong New Area People’s Government

Decibel Architecture



The ‘2016 Shanghai City Major Cultural Facilities International Young Architects Design Competition’ sought to create 3 significant cultural institutions (a new museum, library and theatre) as part of the city’s “Five-Year Plan” development model.

Decibel’s entry – the Shanghai Library East Hall – is an exploration of the library as a collider of ideas. Exuberant floor plates, formally informed by axes of site connections and markers, tectonically shift as they rise 9 stories. A ‘loop of infinite knowledge’, comprised of dual staircases, criss-crosses upwards in the main oculus of the building, and weaves together the disparate programmatic requirements of the brief. Multi-layered veils of iridescent glass then provides weather protection, whilst also imbuing an amorphous softness to an otherwise behemoth structure.

(Urban & Building Form)

Rising nine storeys high, the energetic and shifting form of the New Library Complex creates a harmonic balance across the Axis of Symmetry with the nearby Shanghai Oriental Art Centre, and an elegant bookend to the Pudong District Government.

As an urban strategy the Library complex functions not only as a library in the park but also brings the park into the library. The complex emerges as a series of landscaped terraces from the park, creating a dialogue between the urban areas to the north east and the parks to the south west.


Sitting at the convergence of Century Boulevard local government district, Yuanshen Rd commercial and residential district and Century Park, the location of the New Shanghai Library complex provides the perfect opportunity for a new meeting place for the people of Pudong to share and grow knowledge and cultural ideas and respect. The architecture is conceived from the underlying principle of a field of energy.

The shapes and shifting lines of the building are the revealed regions of the continuous space within which we all live – clean and crisp forms reach outward in directional gestures to the key precinct directions, sending the energy of the building and it’s function out into the greater city, whilst the simultaneously presenting soft internally curved frontages that welcome entry and contemplation.

(Facade & Plaza)

Façade and skins are treated as veils of light- inspired by the Aurora Borealis and acting as light blades that carve and select regions of amorphous space into real programme, real floors and real voids. Layers of iridescent coloured glass drape themselves to form a unifying veil around the different functions, circulations and energetic interactions within the complex.

Created by the collision of electrically charged particles from the sun with gases in the atmosphere, the Aurora are an ethereal, elegant and delicate expression of high intensity energetic interactions. The layering and overlapping of scalloped glass blurs the edges of the building allowing it to flow from the landscape of the park in a way that is both dramatic but delicate at the same time.

The main plaza rises from the street and park levels to create a connecting civic plain, which provides a crucible of interactions and the collision of ideas. Three main entry points into the plaza have been located at the major pedestrian crossings and lead to a central courtyard which connects all the functions of the complex. Sculpted by the movement paths through the site are four crescent shaped pods which act as the main entrances to the different functions in the building. The generous spaces between these pods are activated by kiosks and cafes providing alternative opportunities for people to meet and interact. Inspired by the diagram of particle collisions the interior circulation and navigation is at once coherent and incoherent, creating opportunities for the unknown to be created and encountered within the mixed programmes.

(Key Programme)

The key programme functions of Library (Resource Display & International Cultural Space), Exhibition (Special Research
& Innovation Experience Space), and Academic Exchange and Research Space are all given their own specific landing place and entry at the ground plane. Entrance at these points guides visitors through a vertical tapestry of function and related connections.


Access to each level, from ground to roof, is supported and enticed to the central Lorenz Attractor – the focus of balanced and dynamic forces engaging the public in a journey of discovery. Interspersed between the cultural functions across different levels of the complex are a number of restaurants, bars and kiosks which help activate these terraced parks through the day and night. The terraces also provide an opportunity for community activities such as tai chi, exercise, chess and relaxation. At the heart of the Library complex is an oval shaped courtyard which is inscribed with a step-ramp forming a looping-linking infinity symbol.

This is inspired by the Lorenz Attractor which is a mathematical model describing chaos theory’s sensitive dependence on initial conditions. While there is an underlying beauty and elegance in the meandering path generated by the equation, it is by its nature an expression of deterministic chaos as fluids move and trajectories are formed and moulded by the minutely random conditions around them. It represents the capacity of innate organisation and cohesion, despite a recognition of individual, unique pathways of life, learning and creation.

Taking the Lorenz Attractor as metaphor we have explored this idea as a path connecting the various functions of the programme across and between levels. The fluid nature of the step ramp draws your view up through the building to the sky.

The sinuous and generous proportions of the ramp make it an attractive path providing an infinite possibility for interactions between people crossing paths as they move between departments. It will be a central meeting place and catalyst for the cross fertilization of knowledge and exchange of ideas.