Blue Whale or Ocean Liner?

Designed by OPEN Architecture in Shanghai’s Pinghe International School, the library, theater, and a black box, interlock like a Chinese puzzle to form this characteristic building that some call ‘the blue whale’ while others see it as an ocean liner

Designed by OPEN Architecture in Shanghai’s Pinghe International School

Fact File
Project Name: Pinghe Bibliotheater
Program: 500-seat Theater, 150-seat black-box Theater, Library, Café
Location: Shanghai, China
Client: Shanghai Tixue Education and Technology Co.
Architecture & Interior Design: OPEN Architecture
Building Area: 5,372 m²
Site Area: 2,312 m²
Design Year: 2016-2020
Source: v2com
Photo credit: Jonathan Leijonhufvud & CHEN Hao

The Bibliotheater, with its unique form and free-flowing spaces, abuts an important corner of this school-village, at a junction near which a major city highway and an ancient canal also meet. The slanted roof with spiky skylights, ship portholes like round windows, and its eye-catching blue color, create a strong impression.

Designed by OPEN Architecture in Shanghai’s Pinghe International School

The design breaks away from the trend of school-as-megastructure; instead, the original program was deconstructed and grouped into many smaller and distinctive buildings, forming a village-like campus.

The proscenium theater and the black box, which require the least natural light and the most acoustic isolation, occupy the lower part and the deep central area of the building, while the library occupies the upper part. A loop of different reading spaces rises and drops according to the varying heights of the theater volumes below, creating a terraced spatial sequence that climaxes at a central reading area with comfortable reading zones, while a sunken roof garden gives fresh air, and includes an outdoor reading area.

Designed by OPEN Architecture in Shanghai’s Pinghe International School

The main entrance to the theater is where the building is ‘cut’ diagonally to form a theatrical opening. The juxtaposition of warm wood panels and deep blue walls create a visually stimulating auditorium. A café on the ground floor allows parents waiting to pick up kids to read or socialize.

Designed by OPEN Architecture in Shanghai’s Pinghe International School

Abundant skylights on the slanted roof bring filtered light to the central reading area; a giant oculus dropping down from the ceiling illuminates the very center, while in the theater, natural light is avoided entirely, and artificial lighting is carefully designed to meet functional requirements.

Designed by OPEN Architecture in Shanghai’s Pinghe International School

In a sense, the Bibilotheater was conceived more broadly as a cultural center for not only the school but also the surrounding communities, and may be used independently without disturbing the campus management.