The Pingtan Book House is a traditional timber construction house in China built with an internal staircase and bookshelves that wind around to infinite possibilities for reading and play. The walls of this children’s library are a matrix of bookshelves and windows overlooking a courtyard for play. For rural China, this type of library built for reading and play is a new experiment in architecture for children’s education and recreation.

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Outside of the library at night with lit windows

This region of China is home to the Dong Minority villages, which have dealt with the gradual loss of their architectural heritage that was replaced by concrete buildings. According to the designers, entire villages built over centuries out of indigenous China Fir are losing their historical identity. The Pingtan primary school was also built of concrete 20 years ago on the edge of the village. Moreover, it is considered a prime example of this problem. The building complex hosts more than 300 children from ages six to thirteen. Additionally, it’s comprised of five buildings that include a hall, cafeteria, classroom, dorms and an administrative building.

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Reflective panels of the library

Designers Condition_Lab introduced a timber structure into this complex that harkens back to the Dong architectural history. They hope to inspire nostalgia and wonder at the heritage of architecture here. Meanwhile, the designers say this building design fosters a form of “living heritage” to reconnect and inspire children while giving them access to appreciate their culture via direct engagement through this building style. The project is the second library by Condition_Lab in this region after Gaobu Book House.

Children in the library playing and reading

Furthermore, each project in this line takes the traditional typology of the Dong “Galan” timber frame house and adapts it to a contemporary design, reinterpreting elements such as stairs, walls, windows and floor. Local carpenters and students from the CUHK School of Architecture collaborated on the project that aimed to live out the theme of “local, slow and attentive” in the construction of the library. This design process allowed the designers to engage the community and build trust. The building was also built with a donation of over $76,000 (600,000 HKD) from the Chan Cheung Mun Chung Charitable Fund.

Timber stairs and ceiling

Every element of this building is built with a single material. In fact, polycarbonate was used for facade panels that filter sunlight and provide external views out of the unusually angled windows. Dragon joints used in Dong carpentry were used to interlock parts for the main structural bonds.

The architects say that they wanted the children of Pingtan to know their culture lives on and remains relevant in a rapidly changing world and that the discipline of architecture also retains its soul, considering the social impact and well-being of residents.

+ Condition_Lab

Images via Zhao Sai