Today, the sad truth is that many of us have become disconnected from the world. Buildings alone are not architecturally magnificent. It’s how the building connects to its surroundings that makes it magical. Unfortunately, too many of us, even those that have a serious interest in architecture, only look at pictures on a computer screen, rather than going to see these works of art in person.
However, a new prize, which is being managed and funded by a group of Canadian architects, is trying to turn the tide against this trend. The prize, known as the Moriyama Prize, aims to bring our attention back to architecture that really works in a real world setting, and not just in a photo. Last week, the prize was awarded for the very first time and it was an architect from Beijing called Li Xiaodong that won for the work he did on a tiny library in a rural part of China.
Not the typical winner of a $100,000 architecture prize, but one that was well deserved. The Liyuan library as it’s known, is located in the small village of Jiaojiehe and was built using a budget that could barely be described as a budget. The design takes local climatic conditions into account, runs without the need for electric or mechanical ventilation, and has become a very important part of the local community since it was constructed two years ago.
The library has not been build to simply “look good” on paper, it serves a valuable purpose and integrates into its surroundings exceptionally well, which are all traits that the prize’s organisers are trying to promote. The award is named after the architect Raymond Moriyama, who is an individual with an extremely inspiring story, having started in a Columbia internment camp during the time of Hitler and the Second World War and he has gone on to achieve success on the international stage. At a gala evening for the award, he explained how he wanted to help Canadian architects to connect with the rest of the world, broadening their perspective and opening them up to new experiences.
In a recent interview, the Liyuan library’s creator, Li Xiaodong spoke of how his work has global influences, but at its core remains philosophically Chinese. He explained how Western design often revolves around creating an object that will feature in a landscape and then be interpreted from a perspective point of view; perspective is how the work is defined. “However, in China, we like to look at architecture from a birds-eye-view, as this allows us to layer space and see a space behind the space.” he commented.
When you closely inspect the library, you can understand what Li means. The library is a very long yet sleek “box” that features a series of interconnected pockets of space. The timber matrix that forms the core of the structure has been given a glass “skin,” which is then reinforced by a layer of branches that have been taken from the surrounding area. The way the library has been constructed makes the building integrate effortlessly into the landscape.