Snøhetta Designs a Library to Emulate Feeling of 'Sitting Under a Tree'

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

By: THURSD. | 13-03-2024 | 3 min read
Snøhetta designs the Beijing City Library

Recently, Snøhetta Design completed the Beijing City Library in China, a glass-lined building with towering tree-like columns and rooms disguised as hills. The team behind the architectural wonder designed the Tongzhou Library in Beijing to reinstate the library's relevance in the 21st century and provide a new vision for the typology while resembling the importance of coexisting with nature's forms every day for better mental health.

The Design of Snøhetta's Newest Library Aims to Reconnect People With Nature Through Tree-Looking-Like Structures

The library's design is based on natural landscapes and prioritizes helping visitors to connect to the outside, enticing them away from their screens. According to Snøhetta partner Robert Greenwood, the terraced landscape and tree-like columns encourage visitors to focus on the big picture from a distance. This is a place where you can be sitting under a tree, reading your favorite book. As easy and enjoyable as that! The Beijing City Library has an intergenerational quality about it, where you would pass on your stories to children and introduce them to the titles you've loved.


Full view of the new library in Beijing with tree like columns
Beijing City Library


Beijing City Library was publicly revealed in 2022 after winning an international competition in 2018. Snøhetta completed the project in collaboration with the local studio ECADI. Snøhetta aims to transform Tongzhou into a vibrant arts and cultural destination with the construction of three new cultural buildings.


Snohettas design of tree structures


Columns Intended to Emulate Trees

A series of private reading and conference areas are located beneath the hilly mounds, and parts of the mounds have been flattened to accommodate tables. Beijing City Library also incorporates spaces for performances and book restoration. 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.


Outside facade of the Beijing City Library
A view in between trees of the outside facade of the Beijing City Library


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 glass walls that aim to further enhance the connection with nature.


Beijing City Library during the winter season


A 16-meter-tall atrium lined with tiered seating, stairs, and bookshelves, is also part of the heart of Beijing City Library. A winding walkway runs through the center. It is designed to evoke the nearby Tonghui River and serves as the library's primary circulation space, connecting the north and south entrances.

According to Snøhetta, the terraced hills rising from the Valley create a sculpted interior landform that serves as the ground, seating, and shelving - an informal zone with opportunities to relax, talk, or read quietly while remaining connected to the larger space. Meanwhile, the roof has integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) construction elements to generate renewable energy.

The overall design has achieved China's GBEL Three Star – the highest rating in the green building certification.


Rekindling the Joy of Reading Near Nature

The studio concluded that it hopes the project will 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. The studio comments that it is up to us to reimagine the relationship between body, mind, and environment to rediscover the joy of reading away from the screen.


Tree columns in library to feel closer to nature


Libraries that feel close to nature are here to stay! They're an absolute yes.


Photos by Yumeng Zhu.



Can't get enough?

Subscribe to the
newsletter, and get
bedazzled with awesome
flower & plant updates