Originally built in 1922 in a collaboration between France, Denmark, the United States and Germany, the Normal College Library of the Imperial University of Peking has been through countless changes in function, having served as a library, restaurant, hotel, and more at various stages of its history.
Although the exterior of the building remains largely intact, maintaining the style popular in the Republic of China era, the interior was almost decimated, its characteristics lost to the many reconstructions and changes in use over its past.
For its latest reincarnation, Archstudio were commissioned to reconstruct this historical building to serve as a gallery.
As there were no drawings of the original building to work from, Archstudio’s work on the project began as an “excavation”: the removal of all the unnecessary decorative elements added over the years, in an effort to restore as much as possible of the historical building’s original character. Only after the results of this deconstruction were analysed was the final plan for the reconstruction designed and implemented, taking into account both the protection of the historical elements and the functionality in its future use as a gallery.
This most innovative part of the design is the “nested” interior – an inner cube with a skylight fitted within the external structure, creating a series of inner layers lining the original space, much like the insulated inner tank of a thermos.
Different shades of grey were used to emphasise architectural elements, while traditional and contemporary materials are elegantly combined, working in harmony to provide continuity within the space and to achieve a balance between old and new.
The gallery now provides a clean, minimal backdrop for the traditional calligraphy, painting and art on display, while maintaining a sense of connection with the history of the building.
Location: Lilichang, Peace Arch Street, Beijing
Photographer: Wang Ning