Story at a glance:

  • The Tainan Public Library was designed as a place where books, art, and community come together.
  • Mecanoo and MAYU Architects created an inverted stairstep, cantilever design in response to Taiwan’s hot climate.
  • One of the library’s most prominent features is the staircase, which was inspired by historic religious temples.

The first thing you may notice when you visit the Tainan Public Library is its unique shape, as an inverted stairstep design makes it look as though the smallest base level bears the weight of three larger levels. Slender white columns, designed to give the feeling of a modern bamboo forest, support the cantilever. It’s a cool contrast against the champagne-colored structure with tall glass windows on three levels.

The newest public library in Tainan (the oldest city on the island of Taiwan) is rich with history and built with modern ingenuity. It is more than three times the size of the city’s previous library and houses more than a million books along with film, music, and modern art.

“A library is not just a place to hold books; it’s more of a social building where people meet, learn, and share experiences,” says Rodrigo Louro, an associate architect with Netherlands-based Mecanoo, who designed the building alongside Taiwan partner MAYU. “We’ve seen the people of Tainan are becoming regular users of the space and creating community in the building.”

The finished project took more than five years to actualize, and the result is a thoughtful design full of intent, where local influence is abundant and the design works with the tropical climate. The top level is surrounded by vertical aluminum slats carved into a charming floral design that is reminiscent of a graphical pattern you see often around the island on decorated latticed shop windows.

“We wanted to create a bit of a story with the facade, something with a strong meaning for the people,” Louro says. “Included in the story and the meaning are practical solutions.”

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A bright red staircase connects each level and is visible from anywhere in the library as it stands out against wood paneling. Photo by Ethan Lee

The building’s design is the outcome of a lot of creative problem-solving. Tainan is on the south of the island of Taiwan, where it’s very hot, humid, and rains often. Louro says the design team wanted a building that was transparent so anyone could look inside and see the beautiful space, but glass walls let in too much sun that would degrade the furniture while raising the electricity to keep the space cool.

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Tainan’s new public library is more than three times the size of the city’s previous one. While the original building was located in the city center, the new library is in an up-and-coming residential area. It is expected to act as a catalyst for new neighboring developments as this attractive new area grows. Photo by Ethan Lee

The building’s shape was a perfect solution. The large top level not only creates a canopy around the building to guide patrons and protect people during rainy days, but it also shades the walls of windows on the three levels beneath it on sunny ones. The aluminum slats also filter out the harsh sun and keep the interior cool naturally.

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While the exterior reminds us of ancient temples, the interior is playfully modern with imaginative bookcases, contemporary light fixtures, and contrasting color schemes. Photo by Ethan Lee

The interior space is impressive, too. When you first walk in, a stunning Paul Cocksedge art installation greets you. The dynamic piece hangs from the ceiling and resembles papers blowing in the wind; it sets the tone for a place that is as creative and dreamy as it is inspirational. A bright red staircase takes you up to the next two levels, where you’ll find an expansive book collection alongside multifunctional spaces, accessible study rooms, a theater, and art gallery.


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Courtesy of Mecanoo

Project Credits

Project: Tainan Public Library
Architect: Mecanoo & MAYU Architects
Location: Tainan City, Taiwan
Completion: January 2021
Size: 344,445 square feet
Cost: $67.7 million
Contractor: Fu Tsu Construction, Shing Tai Hydro-Power
Engineering Construction: Envision Engineering Consultants
Installation Advisor: Frontier Tech Institute of Engineering Design & Consultant
Wayfinding: Path & Landforms