In just under two hours outside of Beijing, monumental high-rise buildings disappear, the sky opens up and farmhouses begin to discern among trees and mountains. Not far from the Great Wall and shaded by chestnut trees, hawthorns and apricots, a modern rectangular-shaped building, minimalist in style, sits at the foothills of the Jiaojie River valley near the small village of Huairou.
Chinese architect Li Xiaodong built the two-story Liyuan (fenced garden) Library to provide villagers with a quiet and contemplative space for reading. The interior is fully glazed, allowing the light to come through during the whole day. There are no walls dividing the 30 meters room; it is an open space with multilevel stairs that provide the visitor with a sheltering feeling. All the books have been donated and people are urged to contribute with three books when they come to read or borrow books. The exterior is covered by more than 400,000 short wooden sticks, the concept of which was inspired by the way villagers pile firewood branches outside of their houses to fuel their cooking stoves. Li hopes that the wooden sticks will attract birds to build their nests on the building. “With the added mud and the birds’ droppings,” he says, “soon there will be plants growing out from the building, allowing its color to change with the seasons.”
A professor of architecture at the Tsinghua University, Li’s projects focus on “creating a dialogue between modern architecture and the vernacular traditions and the regional characteristics of the place where the building is located.” Li’s other philanthropic projects include a school and community center for the minority Naxi people near Lijiang in 2005 and the “Bridge School” (bridges two parts of the Xiaoshi village that lie on either side of a small creek), which won an Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2010.
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