On concrete,
books and sand
by Adeline Seidel
Aug 17, 2015

“The Seashore Library” – for all lovers of slushy movies, this sounds suspiciously like the title of a swoony Rosamunde Pilcher style novel, or, a short story for Pascal Mercier readers on male solitude. Aside from the fact that such a location could be an interesting basis for stories, it does seem a bit strange in a non-fictitious reality.

A library, here, on the seashore? Isn’t the beach there to have fun, predestined for leisure and distraction? Aren’t we supposed to celebrate the comfort of pure lassitude when under the searing rays of the sun? And on cooler days enjoy a contemplative walk, while the wind dusts your pores in a dose of sea-salt, the water crashes, and the waves come rolling in. So what does one need a library by the seashore for, let alone on the coast of Bohai in North China, which is a popular holiday destination where the golden beaches are home to countless resorts and all manner of theme-park fun?

What is at any rate certain is that the library is positioned between the beach and no man’s land, as construction has not yet started on the planned resort next door. Meaning the concrete block has a touch of the mirages about it. The one or other person will probably rub their eyes, as the library is a marvelous collage of architectures: Its coarse concrete outside resembles a Le Corbusier build, and on the inside images of Jørn Utzon’s Bagsværd Church pop up – and the “bunker touch” would no doubt have appealed to Paul Virilio and Claude Parent.

The sharp lines of the building stand almost defiantly on the beach, as if the guys at Vector Architects had simply spread a beach towel out. The rectangular structure, closed off on three sides, is only open on the side facing the sea. The reading room would seem to be a high, spacious hall – to the extent we can discern this from the images, as it’s a bit difficult to simply zip on over and check out the beach. Different levels and stairs demarcate the various reading areas: There are armchairs for those wishing to put their nose in a book – with direct beach access – whereas those wanting to concentrate and work will probably prefer a desk workspace on the upper floor. A horizontal strip of windows runs the entire length of the reading room, so that each seating space has a view out over the calming sea.

The round ceiling of fair-faced concrete kindles an introverted mood – it seems to simply grow out of the wall opposite the glass frontage. Subdued daylight filters in through the round cut-outs in the ceiling, creating leisurely bright patches of light on the dark floor. The luminaires and fine railing (both made of black tubular steel) infuse the room with a slight feel of a railway station and the related cosmopolitan design eclecticism. However, the interior remains surprisingly uncluttered and free from any kitschy or ideological baggage.

Unlike the reading room, the other two rooms, one for meditation, the other for louder activities, are intimate and comfy. The concrete ceiling bulges down into both rooms, and the light that enters through the narrow slit-windows gives the rooms almost a religious touch. So this library on the seashore seems just the right place for those who don’t want suntan oil on the pages or sand down their (book) spines. Especially, as here the skin can remain pale, something that in China (the country that is said to have invented the ‘Facekini’) is, after all, the beauty ideal. Perhaps the one or other romantically serious encounter may happen at the one or other book shelf? No brief flirt on the beach, of course. More one that will fill a great many pages.

FIND MORE shady spots >>

The building plays with a variety of different, but specific moods - for example, through different ceiling heights and room shapes. All photos © Vector Architects
The roof, a beach made of concrete, can be used for activities.
Because of the large windows of the spacious reading room you can enjoy the sea without using sunscreen.
The round ceiling of fair-faced concrete kindles an introverted mood – it seems to simply grow out of the wall opposite the glass frontage.
Even those who are not using the library find a shady spot
The library opens itself to the sea.
The building could be a collage of buildings by Le Corbusier, Jørn Utzon and Claude Parent.
The architects resign natural light and views in the meditation room.
The meditation room feels a bit sacral through the skillful play with daylight.
Between the sea and nowhere: The library by Vector Architects.
The staircase makes the roofscape accessible.
Subdued daylight filters in through the round cut-outs in the ceiling and form cone of lights.