Beijing City Library
The World's Largest Library Reading Space


Architecture, Interior Architecture


The Beijing City Library embodies a transformative vision for libraries, reinstating its relevance in the digital age and placing the cultivation of human connections at its forefront. As a key cultural landmark in Beijing’s newly established sub-center, the library stands as a contemporary hub for learning, knowledge-sharing, social interaction, and community engagement. At its heart lies a dynamic central forum, where a sculpted interior landform of stepped terraces creates a versatile communal space for visitors to relax, talk, or dive into reading.

Technical details

Beijing, China

Beijing Municipal Commission of Planning and Natural Resources


ECADI, Eckersley O'Callaghan, Meinhardt, China Railway Construction Engineering Group

75,000 m2

Green Building Evaluation Label (GBEL)—“China Three Star”


Yumeng Zhu

The library boasts the world’s largest climatized reading space and China’s largest load-bearing glass system, leveraging innovative technology for an enhanced visitor experience and environmental responsibility. Its sustainable design has earned China’s GBEL Three Star, the highest attainable sustainability standard in the country, through efforts to reduce both the embodied and operational carbon.

Snøhetta was awarded the Beijing City Library in 2018 through an international competition and the project was completed with local partner ECADI.

Photo: Yumeng Zhu

Crafting a cultural beacon for the Beijing sub-center

The new library is located in Tongzhou District, a designated sub-center of Beijing that is often considered the eastern gateway of the capital. As one of three new major cultural buildings in Tongzhou, the Beijing City Library further establishes the area as both a vibrant district in itself and an extension of Beijing’s urban fabric. It anchors the neighborhood’s ambitious masterplan and will help to catalyze its transformation from a relatively undeveloped area into a lively arts and cultural destination. New transit links to Beijing’s center are underway, promising to further integrate Tongzhou with the city and drive visitors to the sub-center.

Photo: Yumeng Zhu

Photo: Yumeng Zhu

Reinstating the library’s relevance in the digital age

To reaffirm the library’s relevance in the 21st century and reestablish its role as a vital pillar of public and intellectual life, the Beijing City Library is envisioned as a new center for learning, culture, and community. The design emphasizes the book’s physicality and the act of page-turning as a primary experience within a picturesque setting of hills, trees, and the Tonghui river. With innovative responses to the historical essence of libraries, the building makes the open exchange of ideas and human dialogue its core purpose. Throughout, there are dedicated spaces for exhibitions, performances, conferences, and the restoration of ancient books. By fostering an emotional connection between books, people, and the natural landscape beyond, the building firmly rejects the argument of the library becoming a derelict typology with the numerous possibilities it creates.

Photo: Yumeng Zhu

Photo: Yumeng Zhu

Sculpting the valley and the hills within the library

At the heart of the library is a sweeping, nearly 16-meter-tall welcoming forum off of which rise stepped terraces that follow smooth, rhythmic curves and a central meandering pathway known as the Valley. Serving as the main circulation artery, the Valley mirrors the course of the nearby Tonghui river, seamlessly continuing the experience of the landscape beyond and linking the north and south entrances to lead visitors to all other spaces inside.

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. Semi-private reading areas and conference rooms are embedded into the hills, while book stacks and table seating are set on long, flat areas atop. This central open area is fully accessible and incorporates one of the largest book Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) in the world

Photo: Yumeng Zhu

Photo: Yumeng Zhu

Weaving nature into the library experience

The glass-lined building invites nature into the reading space and lends transparency to the enriched interior environment when viewed from outside. Punctuating the large reading space to transition between the scale of the Valley and the books are tall, slender columns that mushroom into flat panels shaped like ginkgo leaves—referencing a 290 million-year-old tree species native to China. The overlapping panels and the interstitial glass inserts create a canopy-like roof that floods the interiors with filtered daylight. Under this ginkgo canopy, one can reach the summit that overlooks the valley of books and the horizon of the vast landscape beyond. At the northern and southern edges of the building where real ginkgo trees are planted at the entry points, the hills focus their views outwards to further enhance the connection with nature.

Photo: Yumeng Zhu

Photo: Yumeng Zhu

Setting the green standard for libraries

The building achieved China’s GBEL Three Star, the highest attainable sustainability standard in the country, by minimizing both embodied and operational carbon. The use of modular components and a rationalized structural grid reduces manufacturing waste. For the ginkgo tree columns, a single module type is rotated on a 9x9m grid to give the appearance of variety while being efficient to fabricate and install. These columns also house integrated technology to control interior climate, lighting, and acoustics, as well as collect rainwater for reuse. Generous roof overhangs reduce solar gain on the glass facades, and the roof has integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) construction elements for renewable energy production.

Photo: Yumeng Zhu