Whenever I interview a candidate in recent years, if he often mentions the so called shape, I will not employ him in most occasions. In my opinion, he must have been heavily poisoned by fashion. As a comprehensive expression of design, architecture is a systematical job rather than art of shape. In order to clarify design is more than art of shape, I intentionally pay little attention to shape in last several projects. Meanwhile, I tried my best to maintain a low profile in my design and spent even more time and energy on highlighting the space and experience of people. Huateng Hog House Rural Library is such a try.
▼图书馆航拍，aerial photo of library ©章勇 Zhang Yong
At the very beginning of design, President Shen of Huateng told me he had collected many sleepers. I was very excited. The dark quiet sleepers seemed humble, conveying a sense of history, thus different from exquisite construction materials. As to construction materials, I particularly feared the oversophisticated chemical texture. Such texture is excessively exquisite and even appears boring. Like the desserts displayed in dessert store, they seemed delicious below elegant light to stimulate your appetite. But when you eat every kind of dessert available to you, you will find difficult to swallow.
▼大量使用低调而有历史感的枕木，the dark quiet sleepers seemed humble, conveying a sense of history ©章勇 Zhang Yong
People are now struggling to build many constructions in the shape of desserts. The photos of such constructions are exquisite but expressionless, like online star face manufactured by plastic surgery. Online star face is a fashion and trend nowadays. However, I’m trying to go to the opposite side of such fashion and trend, in an effort to make my constructions look ugly to some extent. Like roasted sweet potato, my design appears somewhat dried out, crude and dark, nothing like the popular and favorite ones. But when you look into it, you will find something amazing.
▼建筑像“烤地瓜”外面干瘪、粗糙，内里却藏着惊喜，like roasted sweet potato which appears to be ugly but with amazing taste inside ©章勇 Zhang Yong
The library should occupy an area of 200 sqm. As the sleepers offered by proprietor is of 160x220x2400, they are not applicable to the space 2400 wide. It is necessary to form a space wide enough by sleepers. Based on the sleepers of such specifications, we worked out our first plan. The section of such design is a folded arched-space created by five sleepers.
▼初步方案空间与结构分解图，breakdown view of space and structure ©李兆晗 Li Zhaohan
The space is 6m wide and 5.7m high. Such space is very good in my opinion. However, the problem I have to confront is that such structure is more suitable for small pavilion rather than closeable building. Meanwhile, such method will consume a large amount of sleepers, thus resulting in over expensive price. So we have to improve the structure without change of space and dimensions. In the picture, the structure has now been modified to a normal frame structure rather than ribbed structure in early years. I have to come back to the inherent link between architecture and space after the problem of structure is addressed.
▼经过改进后的空间结构，after improving the structure ©章勇 Zhang Yong
Since the appearance of library is of little concern to me, the experience of reading is very important. I’m trying to discover the nature of space in the countryside fields. Without the techniques relevant to shape, what inherent link between conception and space, environment the architecture is about to bring to us? The conception is more concerned about than techniques and shapes in Chinese constructions, really? My idea is based on so many libraries of formalistic styles I have seen these years, such as the bookshelf of Shiba Ryotaro Memorial Museum designed by Anteng. There are many other similar libraries and book stores, including Tianjin Binhai Library, a design work of MVRDV. How such libraries benefit their readers in addition to their dazzling cool and unreachable high shelves? I had a stroll around the library just to satisfy my curiosity and experience the freshness. I think will never come back to read there in future. The inhuman space imposed a sense of pressure on me. The books are no more than decorations, and the readers can hardly calm them down. An excessively decorated stage will eclipse the players on it.
▼图书馆内景Interior of library ©章勇 Zhang Yong
What kind of space will make readers feel comfortable? I’m always trying my best to find out what I really pursue at the bottom of my heart. I will never forget the years I spent in the primary school of the village where I was born. I especially liked to sit by the window of classroom, so I could easily turn my face to have a look at the fields outside and keep nothing in mind for a while. It carved a wonderful memory in my heart. In the breeze of spring, green rice fields are everywhere across the countryside, with swallows flying over the fields, sometimes across in front of us. Below the sunshine of summer, butterflies danced over blossoming rice flowers, sometimes flapping their wings close to the window. In the fresh air of autumn, vast golden rice fields are decorated with farmers here and there busy in harvest. In the cold wind of winter, the piles of dried straws on the bare fields arouse my imagination of Utopia.
▼图书馆的窗景，Views through window of library ©章勇 Zhang Yong
The wonderful memory of the landscapes outside the window of classroom in my childhood is the prototype of my design. Sometimes I kept nothing in mind, and felt frightened when I regained control of myself for fear of criticism by teacher. Now I would like to gaze at the fields from the library without any restraint and read in peace. When I get tired, I will relax as long as I wish. Moreover, I can sleep in the lounge for a while when I feel sleepy.
▼人在窗边休憩，staying at the window ©李以靠 Li Yikao
The picture below is a photo I took when I observed the reaction of readers in the library soon after it was built up. The three persons are teachers from Zhoushan. The guide urged them to move on, but they expressed their wish to stay to read quietly in the library whole afternoon. I was very happy when I heard it. Having no idea I was the designer of the library, they must have told the truth.
▼三位舟山来的老师，three teachers from Zhoushan ©李以靠 Li Yikao
Despite the difference between my design and that of formalistic library, I make every effort to maximize the care for readers, strictly controlling the height of self so that the readers can reach out to their desired books without any difficulty. As I say I will highlight a sense of roasted sweet potato in the building, I propel myself to deliver my promise. Despite scorched skin, the insider must be soft and fresher. The wood used for interior of library is raw red cedar from Northeast China. Without any protective paint, the red cedar gives off a natural fragrance to provide readers with an elegant reading environment full of fragrance. It is said astronauts will be arranged to recover for a week in house made of red cedar after they returned to earth.
▼红雪松吊顶，red cedar suspended ceiling ©章勇 Zhang Yong
Approaching the end of construction, the construction workers told me they would lie down on the wooden floor to have a rest when the floor heating system was powered on. It is an amazing enjoyment. I have not yet enjoyed the floor heating system of the library I design. The fragrance of red cedar is so charming and pleasant. Except being personally experienced in the library, it cannot be expressed by pictures or drawings. Just like I expect at the very beginning of design, the line-styled library stands quietly in the center of fields, stretching 40 meters long. From a distance, the library looks like a barn. The surface of dark board seems humble and calm as if it were carved by years of exposure to rain and wind. It appears harmonious with the surroundings no matter in space or color. The surroundings are integrated into the library in such harmony. The library is no longer confined to the space of 200 square meters. Everything in the view from the window is a part of the library.
▼图书馆安安静静得躺卧在田中央，成“一”字形，the line-styled library stands quietly in the center of fields ©章勇 Zhang Yong
The line-styled library is vertical to the country lanes. The cross point is both the lobby of library and a post for rest in the fields. I expect the library will serve not only the tourists but also the workers in the nearby fields. Everyone may come here to have a rest and drink some water.
▼乡间驿站，Countryside post ©章勇 Zhang Yong
Now I have said what I should say. There is neither collateral evidence or sufficient quotes nor classic building prototype or guidance of superman or philosopher. This building of library is an embodiment of my attitude towards life and recalls the wonderful memory of my childhood. Most of the primary ideas of design have been realized. But there remains some regrets, one of which is the sleepers don’t appear in the structure of library because we encountered difficult during construction. The sleepers have been soaked in asphalt with large iron nails inside. The consumption of blade must be incredible during cutting. Meanwhile, the heat generated by cutting will melt asphalt to stick the blade. It is beyond our estimation. The cost of construction is expected to rise dramatically accordingly and the progress of construction will be undoubtedly slowed down. I had to abandon sleepers and turned to normal wood structure.
▼图书馆夜景，Night view of library ©章勇 Zhang Yong
Another regret is the inhaul cable of structure designed to increase interior of library. Due to constructor’s improper structural calculation, the arch generates side thrust upon posts on both sides after the framework is completed, which will result in structural deformation over a long time. I have no choice but to introduce inhaul cable. Fortunately, the interior space is not impaired. Personally speaking, the increase of metal component percentage enriches the interior space. We are accustomed to learning lesson and drawing inspiration from mistake. The structure engineer’s mistake in his work stimulated my inspiration in design. One of the methods to avoid inhaul cable is to extend beam along thrust generated by arch to transform it into batter post and eliminate the thrust generated by arch. Such thrust transforms library into another kind of architecture – church. The approximately 120sqm church is scheduled to be built in rural area of Zunyi.
▼拱演化成斜柱，Arch evolved into batter post
Like a person, every building is inevitably flawed during its constant pursuit of improvement. As to such flaw, the only way is to face up to it, embrace it and correct it. Such attitude is also applicable to pictures. The photographer asked whether I want to amend the pictures, for instance, removing the wire poles and something else by PS. I told him not to amend. The pictures may seem artificial if perfectly amended like design sketch. When a flaw is covered, many other flaws will emerge. Let its flaw exposed below sunshine. Finally, let me extend my appreciation to President Shen of Huateng and his Huateng group, HKlong Log House as well as Leeko Studio’s design group (Xu Wenli, Li Zhaohan and Zhang Jiaqi) designated for Huateng Library for their generous support and contribution.