At Haikou, on the South China Sea, the fluid, surprising forms of the library designed by MAD Architects are inspired by wormholes, the space-time tunnels that could theoretically connect two black holes

The city of Haikou, on the island of Hainan, is the capital of a very dynamic province, with strong growth also in the field of tourism, which attracts the most innovative multinationals and prestigious global brands. In Haikou, investments are also made in urban redevelopment. In 2019, the local government launched the development plan, extended to the whole bay, to design new spaces and public services along the coast, punctuated by a series of pavilions entrusted to Chinese and international architects. The library designed by MAD Architects, led by Chinese architect Ma Yansong, is the first of these high-quality interventions to come to an end, and clearly represents the intention to project oneself into a futuristic dimension.

The concept of the library is based on the wormhole, the physical entity that connects two black holes through a space-time tunnel. The wormhole concept is anything but basic and accessible, especially for those who are not big fans of astrophysics; but the idea of a bridge connecting sites of antimatter does have an emotional impact. If we think about space and time as something that is achieved through a balance of positive and negative, existing and non-existent, the resulting vertigo is hard to represent. One such case might be the famous Moebius strip, or the Klein bottle, where the passage between inside and outside happens through an unrecognizable shift. If we observe these figures, the point where the inside flexes outward and swaps places with the outside cannot be identified. While the mathematical explanation is quite complicated, the twisting of space is intuitive. If we apply it to architecture it produces very interesting results, as has been proven, for example, in architectural experiments conducted by Ben van Berkel and François Roche.

The library at Haikou alludes to other dimensions, where the form is driven by new geometries, seeming to establish a relationship with something immaterial in its expressive and mysterious configuration. It might be the fourth, the fifth or the Nth dimension, a daring representation of the curvature of space-time, or simply the effect of the tones of light across the days and the seasons. Built by pouring white concrete into shutters made with numerical control (CNC) technology and 3D printing, the library urges us to observe the signs of what could be an original type of architecture in the very near future, designed and produced in an entirely digital context.

The characteristics of this near future seem to be fluidity, continuity, open and dynamic forms. Surfaces bend in an incessant movement, the three-dimensional evolution of spaces never stops, but regenerates, in every twist and curvature, in a constantly mutable flux. Every space, every structural order is relative in this continuous metamorphosis, ready to transmute into a contiguous but different version. Even the force of gravity is suspended, as bodies interpenetrate like fluids in motion, subject only to their own energy because they are self-supporting, having no structure other than the one already implicated in their form.

The entire construction is thus conceived as a single unit, an organ, like a lung or a heart, to be taken in at a single glance but reveals unexpected complexities from up close. Facing the sea, the building poses an initial enigma, as a body that is simultaneously single and double. At the center, a large gateway offers a glimpse of the sea. Without doors or windows, at least not in the traditional sense of those terms, the library pavilion is an open shell that offers an unusual spatial experience. The raised podium is like an island, surrounded by two large zones: a pool of water that reflects the light, on the north side, and a vast area of sand, on the other side.

Moving up the steps leading to the podium, visitors can cross a lobby passage and continue towards the sea, or they can enter and let themselves be guided by the fluidity of the concatenated spaces. To the left, facing south, the curved volume leads to the reception area, the offices and the main reading room; on the opposite side stands the area with the services. For the upper level, the reading areas are larger and brighter, facing towards the sea together with the terrace, in a continuous interpenetration of indoors and outdoors.

The reading room is large, containing about 10,000 volumes, and its architecture offers places of striking character, such as the dramatic amphitheater connecting the two levels, or the space set aside for children’s books, hosted in a playful labyrinth that references certain works of streamlined sci-fi architecture of the 1950s and 1960s. The other facilities, in a building of modest proportions, are very important and generously designed: the panoramic terrace and the café encourage visitors to enjoy the excellent climate and the seascape.

Project by Ma Yansong / MAD Architects - Partners in charge Ma Yansong, Dang Qun, Yosuke Hayano - Design team Qiang Siyang, Sun Feifei, Dayie Wu, Shang Li, Alan Rodríguez Carrillo, Xie Qilin - Photo courtesy MAD Architects