The Zikawei Library by Wutopia Lab in Shanghai

Wutopia Lab,

CreatAR Images,


Architecture and Culture, Libraries,


Interior Design, Refurbishment,

The story of the Zikawei Library in Shanghai is a tale of intelligent reuse, as the building was originally designed as a bookstore by David Chipperfield Architects. Immediately after the completion of the façade and the structure, it remained empty. However, at the city's will and thanks to the intervention of the Wutopia Lab studio, it has recently become the iconic public library of the Zikawei district.

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The Zikawei Library by Wutopia Lab in Shanghai
When big names in architecture and interior design are involved, the results of a project focused on the reuse of an existing structure are destined to become landmarks even in a metropolis rich in architectural attractions like Shanghai. This is precisely the case of the Zikawei Library, the work completed earlier this year by Wutopia Lab, led by architect Yu Ting. The studio, whose creations we have already presented in our pages, is renowned for its innovative and extravagant approach to design and the new Zikawei library certainly reflects their unique style, combining elements of fantasy, imagination and functionality.

Originally designed as a bookstore by the David Chipperfield Architects studio, the project was never completed after the construction of the façade and the structure. Two investors, in fact, backed out on completing the work and in the end the building, covering almost 19,000 square meters, was destined to become the public library of the Zikawei district, which gives it its name and from whose history and cultural context it draws inspiration. The neighbourhood is marked by Western influences, in particular thanks to the presence of Catholic missionaries in the area, as we can also see from the photos showing a nearby church. Wutopia Lab embraced this historical narrative and incorporated it into the library's design.

The exterior of the library features a translucent façade made of a composite material that respects the original texture desired by David Chipperfield, with a clear reference to the materiality of the historic white bamboo blinds. This ethereal and porous exterior allows natural light to filter into the building, creating a serene and magical atmosphere. The project adopts the concept of the "Chinese nested box" structure, which derives from the traditional trousseau box of the Han dynasty. As the Wutopia Lab architects explain: "The first layer of the box is the thin façade designed by DCA; the second layer consists of the main programmes of the library such as the café, various reading areas, lecture halls, exhibition halls, etc; the third layer is the donut-shaped aisle; the fourth layer is the atrium that serves as the library's reading hall; and lastly, the heart of the library, the last protected treasure of the box structure." Dynamic staircases, curved shelves and cosy reading corners form an inviting and engaging space for visitors. There is no lack of special attention to younger users and the use of light and colours integrated throughout the interior helps to create a magical atmosphere, enhancing the overall experience.

One of the main features of the library is the so-called "writer's attic". Located on the top floor, this space provides a haven for authors and researchers, offering a panoramic view of the surrounding area. In the attic, we find a series of interconnected domes that create an otherworldly environment that fosters creativity and inspiration.
The Zikawei Library is not only a space for reading and research, but also a cultural centre. The library hosts various exhibitions, conferences and community events, promoting intellectual and artistic exchange within the community. The integration of technology, multimedia displays and interactive elements further strengthens the library's role as a centre of knowledge and cultural engagement.

The numbers speak for themselves: the Zikawei library is a real attraction as, in just two months, it has been visited by 180,000 people, including many who had never been to the library. A place of culture has thus become a new landmark of Shanghai, bringing the Zikawei district back to the attention of citizens and visitors.

Christiane Bürklein

Project: Wutopia Lab
Location: Shanghai, China
Year: 2023
Images: CreatAR Images