Renowned writer Jorge Luis Borges once wrote, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library”—and any bibliophile can relate! While we’re here on our wonderful planet, some libraries were just created to look like Paradise. These havens around Asia don’t have the usual European-style interiors, but a closer look reveals its own elegant designs and modern marvels inspired by centuries of practice. A feature distinct to ancient East Asian architecture, where clay tiles interlock into curving roofs, make appearances in China and South Korea. Domed ceilings, adorned in intricate patterns, take root not just in the perfect symmetry of Indian architecture, but also in the Western-Japanese estates of Meiji-era Japan. Looking to the future, sleek lines and geometric repetition have been dominating Asia’s modern libraries. So whether you’re a lover of books or a lover of beauty, a stroll through these shelved halls will inspire you to take a photo, pluck a book from their shelves, and stay a while.
This library in Uttar Pradesh, India, hosts Indo-Islamic heritage not just within its marbled halls, but in the cusped arches and “Chhatri” (domed pavilions) that first stun visitors as they approach it. Raza Library could easily pass for a palace—from the manicured gardens to the opulent main hall within, majesty radiates through and through. Across the courtyard, the perfect symmetry and pastel hues of the façade are in full view. It rises in tiers, culminating in Chhatri. Inside, valuable texts and art pieces from the region are protected under glass cases. Opulent chandeliers trickle down from gold-patterned ceilings and cast a warm glow on visitors. Hours can be lost, just imagining beautiful scenes in this palatial library.
Hamid Manzil Qila Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, India
While in Tami Nadu, India, a little patience will uncover the wonders of the original annex of Connemara Public Library: stained glass, vaulted ceilings, ornate arches, and so much more from 1890. Walk past the beat-down additions, built later on to accommodate more books and readers. The true beauty of Connemara is found when you look up. Stained glass windows brace the ceiling of the main hall in beautiful color, as intricate floral patterns etch the surface of teak wood arches. Under your feet, the red carpets protect the original marble floors. Wander through with a watchful eye, because you don’t know what other hidden beauties you might find!
Pantheon Road, Egmore, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Built in the Meiji Period by one of Japan's wealthiest families, the Osaka Prefectural Nakanoshima Library has history and European influence etched into its stone. Four stately columns loom overhead as you climb the stairs to enter. Intricate carvings rest atop the pillars, and step through the door. At its heart, a domed atrium opens up at its pinnacle to a stained glass window. The library is about 100 years old and remains an active hub for classics in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. Local publications about Osaka also draw tourists and scholars to its reading rooms.
1-2-10 Nakanoshima Kita-ku, Osaka City, Japan
경상남도 합천군 가야면 해인사길 122 (가야면)
Gimcheon, South Korea • Recommendation •
Light peeks in from the outside through wooden slats, gently grazing the carved wood blocks that hold a thousand years of Buddhist wisdom. The Janggyeong Panjeon is a depository of knowledge, dating as far back as the 13th century within the beautiful Haeinsa Temple complex. The library is humble in appearance; but, as you will find in many locations in East Asia, the simpler spots have an abundance of still beauty to them. Its most ornamental feature are the carved and painted beams that support the ceiling, endless wooden blocks shelved throughout the length of the hall. These 80,000 woodblocks are called the Tripitaka Koreana—priceless volumes of Buddhist canon. Robed monks, trained in their preservation, walk about the room, making you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time.
122, Haeinsa-gil, Gaya-myeon, Hapcheon-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do, South Korea
Beijing, China, People's Republic • Recommendation •
Two Imperial guardian lions stand proud in front of the National Library of China's original building, looming over arriving visitors. Its imposing structure ends overhead by a green roof, curving upward in the traditional Chinese style. The NLC Ancient Books Library is a sight to behold from afar, as if frozen from imperial times. Ascend the stairs and little details come into view: carvings and patterns adorning the façade of the building, running along the railings and up the columns. Inside, the reading rooms are simple and traditional where scholars bury themselves in the ancient knowledge the library holds. Visitors must register for a Reader Card at the reception with the necessary documents if they wish to peruse the extensive collection. Those who go this extra mile are rewarded with block-printed copies of text from as early as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
7 Wenjin Street, Xi Cheng District, Beijing, China
Bringing our list to the 21st century, this university library has crafted local cedar wood into a modern-day coliseum filled with books. Akita International University’s Nakajima Library arms its students for battle—intellectually, that is. This university library in Japan operates round-the-clock, dedicated to serving its students. The half-circle structure resembles an amphitheater, with rings of shelves ascending in layers. During study breaks and bouts of daydreaming, the coliseum’s ceiling lifts the gaze upward. The ceiling, a main focal point, is held up by a lattice of wooden beams arranged like an umbrella. The precise arrangement of lines is intricate, perfect to inspire the curious.
Okutsubakidai, Yuwa-Tsubakikawa-aza, Akita City, Akita, Japan
Amidst the lush greenery of Beitou Park, the Taipei Public Library exists in perfect harmony with nature. Sunlight is always in generous supply with energy coming from the sun and the warm wooden structure bringing the outdoors inside. Every inch, from the sloping roof to the air that circulates within, was taken into consideration in this little oasis’ design. Taipei’s “green library” is a comforting spot to better your mind. Its vast collection highlights ecological conservation; but, with more than 20,000 titles to choose from, there’s bound to be something to catch your interest. Take your reading to the balcony and bask in the sun and Beitou Park’s refreshing atmosphere.
251, Guangming Road, Beitou District, Taipei City, Taiwan
Perforated sunlight filters in from the 6,000 round windows of this massive library in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. On any day, bookworms weave through the labyrinth of free-standing shelves to pore over a selection of 400,000 books. The structure is simple, a white rectangular block, but it’s in the simple repetitions that the public library stuns its visitors. The straightforward structure is stripped from excess, a tranquil atmosphere enveloping the room as people dive into other worlds between the pages found within.
I-1-1 Jichumachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan
From afar, the entirety of the Tianjin Binhai Library looks like an eye gazing out to you. The closer you look, the more the library reveals its curiosities. Its floor-to-ceiling shelves ripple in waves around a glowing orb. Soft white light fills the room, making the library look like it was plucked from the future. Even closer, and the “books” on the shelves reveal themselves to be merely printed on the crevice where bound paper should be. Some books do stock its shelves, but you’ll find majority of it in another room. The undulating forms that dominate the atrium invite its visitors to roam freely and sit where they please—no tables and chairs needed! Ultimately, the library is a community space, leading its people to its various rooms easily accessible by entrances in the atrium.
Binhai District, Tianjin Province, China
Rediscover the wonder that comes with reading in the wonderland of Yangzhou Zhongshuge. Many authors and poets were said to have roamed the city, inspired by their time walking around the rivers and canals. This bookshop and library was designed with the city of Yangzhou in mind. Waterways wind through the landscape like veins that brought life to the city through the salt trade. The fluidity of water and poetry of bridges inspired gentle arches in the main reading area, lit by a soft glow. As soon as you enter, a seemingly endless tunnel of books greets you. The shelves in this corridor reading room curve upward, reflected into an infinite loop by the black mirror floor. Other rooms, like the children’s pavilion, recreate Yangzhou with shelves shaped like the city skyline and small lights meant to look like stars.
9th Alley, Guangling Qu, Yangzhou, Jiangsu, China
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