As a project, the High School Library of Keystone Academy Beijing offered a richer level of cultural engagement than most, neatly capturing the persistent ‘East meets West’ conundrum as a direct theme.
Keystone Director of Libraries Song Jingming’s personal shelf of books provided much of the early inspiration. From Kahlil Gibran to Thoreau’s Walden in Mandarin, Robert Frost next to Tao Te Ching, patterns of porcelain and 300 Tang poems –all close to her desk. Although she had never left greater China, she was completely absorbed by English literature, or rather literature in the English language – what it meant and what it might mean.
Schematic design began with layouts, aiming to establish how the space would work; how flexible it could be, how the lighting would work, how to create well-lit spaces which are also sheltered from the sun. Then came the research into China references, drawing from a whole range of elements and images including an exhibition of silk paintings at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum or a picture of an old Ming dynasty scholar falling asleep over his books.
The decorative pièce de resistance is the double dragon door handles on the library entrance – ‘The moment when a student physically grabs hold of the sense of these cultural connections.’ Commissioned from Scottish sculptor, Jill Watson, the dragons themselves were the result of painstaking research, involving photography of ‘at least 300 dragons.’ In the final installation both Welsh and Chinese versions of the mythical animal breathe fire at each other across the doorway, embodying the cross-cultural communication at the heart of this centre for academic learning.
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