CV Starr East Asian Library

The CV Starr East Asian Library, a symmetrical box broken by light, is a repository for character language texts and a sanctuary for study.

The library, cut deeply into a hillside, sits in the heart of the Berkeley campus, facing the University’s main green. The entrance on the third level is reached by a pedestrian bridge from the hillside and a monumental stair from the green. The stair and bridge meet at an overlook to view the campus.

Design guidelines for the “classical core” required white granite, a pitched clay tile roof, and a symmetrical façade. To express the building’s Asian identity, the screen, a characteristic element of Asian architecture, was reinterpreted using a traditional cracked ice motif and a contemporary grid pattern. These monumental bronze screens unify the exterior and create the illusion of symmetry. From the exterior, the façade is mysterious and powerful. From the interior, the screens offer a dynamic view of the landscape.

The building, constructed of rough concrete and clad in stone from China, is massive and dense. This sense of solidity is transformed upon entering. Filtered natural light from a linear north-facing skylight fills a long, central void that cuts through the building. Every floor is animated by changing light. A stone stairway cantilevered from a structural wall rises through the four floors. Stacks on either side of the opening, connected by bridges, clearly display the books and the building’s organization.

Various materials add texture and color to the interiors. Cherry tables offer places to study, walls contain recesses for artwork, and vitrines hold artifacts. Black-and-white landscape photographs of China hang in one room and fifteen tapestries, designed from imagery in the library’s rare book collection, brighten concrete walls. Cherry wood battens backed by fuchsia fabric help dampen sound while bronze plaques, embossed with the Library chop, mark each room. Everywhere one looks inside, intrigue and beauty are found.

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