Tianjin Binhai Library – Binhai Xinqu, China - Atlas Obscura
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Binhai Xinqu, China

Tianjin Binhai Library

China’s breathtaking futuristic library is lined floor to ceiling with fake books. 

When the Binhai Library opened in the Chinese coastal city of Tianjin in October of 2017, it attracted a flood of visitors and a flurry of social media photos straight away. And no wonder, considering it is absolutely stunning. At first glance, the bright white atrium appears to be covered with row upon swirling row of colorful books stacked on a continuous wave of curving, terraced shelves. That is not altogether true, however.

While the library’s modern design is unquestionably beautiful, there is a slight catch: The books lining this literary repository are not actually real.

The majority of the “books” in the room are in fact printed images of book spines papered onto the back of the shelving to give the appearance of rows of tomes. If you take a closer look at the stunning photos of the space, it is easy to tell the real books apart from the flat replicas.

The building, designed by the Dutch architectural firm MVRDV, is an impressive 36,000 square feet and five stories high, with the capacity to fit over a million books in its collection. As of yet, it only stores about 200,000 volumes, housed in the library’s more traditional reading rooms.

In fact, the curved continuum of shelves in the main room are actually meant to be used as seating and steps for visitors, giving the feeling you are lost in an undulating sea of words. They surround a huge, gleaming white spherical auditorium that stands at the center of the room. When seen from the park outside the library, the unique space resembles a giant eye, and has already been dubbed “The Eye of Binhai.” Given the masterful, though controversial, optical illusion at play, it seems an appropriate nickname.

Know Before You Go

The library is part of an ambitious urban cultural center developed by the city of Tianjin. Nearby is the Tianjin Grand Theatre, Art Gallery, Natural History Museum, Science and Technology Museum and other venues.