Condition_Lab designs intertwined spiral staircases in a children’s library

Architectural research studio Condition_Lab has completed the Pingtan Book House in China’s Hunan Province, which features a double-helix staircase designed to provide space for children to read and play.

Located in a village in Pingtan, the 80 square meter library sits on the perimeter of a primary school yard that serves as a playground for more than 400 local children.

The tiered interior of the Pingtan Book House is designed for sitting and playing

Instead of creating a library with traditional floors and rooms, Condition_Lab designed the interior of Pingtan Book House as a grand double-helix staircase with spacious landings and steps that double as seating.

“The interconnected double staircases make the building immediately very user-friendly and playful,” the design firm told Dezeen.

“Children are instinctively encouraged to play games like hide and seek, creating an atmosphere of joy and happiness.”

Exterior of Pingtan Book House with transparent solid windows illuminated at night
The building has a gridded facade with transparent, translucent and opaque panels

The two intertwining staircases start on the ground floor on opposite sides of the square building. They spiral up three floors around a square void, before meeting on the upper level.

“When you visit the building, there are some really nice sounds of being able to hear people talking and talking but not being able to locate them visually,” Condition_Lab added. “One of the kids told us it was like stepping into a video game – a testament to how times change.”

Wooden staircase lined with shelves
The library is constructed from locally sourced timber

Condition_Lab hired local carpenters to build the library structure, which uses local wood and construction techniques.

According to the studio, it is informed by the village’s traditional wooden houses belonging to the Dong people, a Chinese ethnic minority group.

“The Dong culture is directly related to wood, so we decided to use local Chinese fir wood, a softwood indigenous to the region,” Condition_Lab said.

“The wooden construction of the book house follows the traditional Dong sinew and mortar system where all beams and columns are prefabricated offsite and assembled onsite,” he continued.

“Unlike Japanese and Korean joinery, where the joint is usually exposed, in Dong joinery the joint is completely hidden from the viewer.”

Children playing on the stairs of Pingtan Book House by Condition_Lab
Traditional carpentry techniques were used to build the library

A wooden grid structure lines the walls inside the library. On two elevations, these serve as shelves, while the others are pierced with windows that overlook the courtyard and the nearby rice fields.

The facades with windows are decorated with a pattern of transparent, translucent and opaque panels – made of acrylic, polycarbonate and stainless steel respectively – which are tilted at different angles.

Children in the playground of Chinese primary school
Pingtan Book House is located in the courtyard of a primary school

“For the pattern, we wanted to create a form of movement, so we articulated each plane in a different direction so that when the light falls on the facade it generates different reflections,” the studio said.

“The square pattern is also an interpretation of some traditional textile decorations that we found embroidered in local costumes, more related to Dong culture,” he continued.

Exterior of library in rural China
The east and west elevations of the building filter the light inside

Condition_Lab designed the library as a fun educational space where children can learn and play while creating a strong connection with the city’s traditional culture and crafts.

The project was shortlisted in the cultural building category of the Dezeen Awards 2022, alongside a concrete outdoor concert hall in Beijing and a brewery in Tehran transformed into a museum of contemporary art.

The photograph is by Zhao Sai.