Mecanoo’s Tainan Public Library takes its cues from local history

9 June 2021
  • Yu-Chen Chao
  • Ethan Lee
  • Ethan Lee
  • Ethan Lee
  • Yu-Chen Chao
  • Ethan Lee



Tainan Public Library, Taiwan by Mecanoo

The oldest city in Taiwan, Tainan has a rich history influenced by different cultures. There are remnants of maritime trade with Europe in the 17th century, of the Chinese Ming Dynasty and Japanese settlements from the beginning of the 20th century. The city is rich in temples, including the famous 17th century Confucius Temple with its cantilevered roofs and beautifully carved ceilings. The new 37,000 sqm library takes from this history, is inspired by the local culture and has been designed for the tropical climate of Tainan. It is home to the city's cultural heritage, modern art, music, films and over a million books, including more than 16,000 from the Japanese occupation period and of course, is equipped with the latest technologies of a modern library.

The most striking feature is the inverted stepped shape of the library. Slender columns support the cantilevers in rhythmically placed quartets, giving visitors a feeling of weaving their way through a modern bamboo forest. The striking crown of the building is surrounded by vertical aluminium slats with carved flower patterns, which are reminiscent of the decorative latticed windows in the old town. These slats filter the light and keep the heat out. 

In the evening, this unique facade is recognisable from afar. The stepped building offers shelter to visitors both inside and outside and creates a smooth transition from exterior and interior. Below the cantilevers are four sunken patios for outdoor activities, with the largest accessible from the square; lectures, concerts and exhibitions can be organised here. Above, is the special finish of the awnings: champagne-coloured aluminium panels with a linear staggered relief, providing additional decorative elements to the façades. The rational construction of the library allows maximum flexibility, so that the building is prepared for future changes.

Once inside, the double-height atrium is inhabited with a work of art by Paul Cocksedge. The installation seems to freeze the moment when white sheets of paper are blown away by the wind, symbolising freedom of thought and the pleasure of reading. Art is exhibited everywhere in the building, not just to look at but also interactive art to touch and play with. A red sculptural staircase adds an exciting element to the geometric building, intersecting all levels and is visible everywhere through the subtle wooden-slatted flight of stairs. 

There are also four outdoor areas situated here, which are arranged as roof gardens, as well as three multifunctional spaces for classrooms/workshops and a cafe. At the top of the building, you will find the theatre and conference hall, along with offices for members of staff. From the uppermost levels of the building, a beautiful view of the city through the vertical slats is visible. Furthermore, the building has an art gallery, a maker space, Braille library, and a bookshop. 

Lucy Nordberg
Tenderstream Head of Research

This competition was first published on 11.07.2018 by Tenderstream here

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