Across China, young people are leaving rural areas in droves for greater opportunities in cities, leaving small villages in peril of simply disappearing. But in Jiaojiehe, a tiny village just north of Beijing, one modest piece of architecture has managed to bring a lot of them back—if only for tourism.
In 2011, Chinese architect Li Xiaodong decided to build a library in Jiaojiehe, one that would take full advantage of the area's abundance of trees. Half a year or so of construction later, the result is an 1,880-square-foot steel and glass box à la Philip Johnson's iconic Glass House—only it's completely covered in fruit-tree twigs and merges with the surrounding landscape. Yet however unassuming its appearance, this Liyuan Library, The New York Times reports, has proven to be a huge boon for the village.
As the Times explains, beyond giving some 50 households a reading room filled with Chinese and western titles, the library now draws up to 200 urban tourists a day during the weekend. And when they're there, the visitors don't just check out the library, they also pay parking fees, make donations towards the building's maintenance, share photos of their trip on social media, not to mention stop by the village's two restaurants. As Wang Fuying, a local farmer-turned-librarian for the space, puts it, the two eateries "would have closed without the visitors."
Though the library seems to be producing a micro-scale Bilbao effect of sorts, the architecture itself couldn't be more different from Frank Gehry's dramatic, shiny Guggenheim Museum. Just as the twig-covered facade of the library appears to recede into the woodsy background, the interior is also drastically unobtrusive. There are no separate tables or chairs, only a wood floor with platforms for guests to lean back, relax, and, at certain spots, enjoy views out to the mountains.
This synergy with nature embodies Li's design ethos refined over the years, one greatly influenced by Frank Floyd Wright, who believed in harmony between the built environment and the natural world. And with Liyuan Library, Li might have just created a Fallingwater for Jiaojiehe.
The Times' dispatch is well worth reading in full, this way. >>