Tianjin Binhai Library in Tianjin, China
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Tianjin Binhai Library

Tianjin, China

Anybody who laments the decline of the public library should look to Tianjin, China, where a gleaming new ziggurat has attracted more than 1.8 million visitors since it opened in October 2017. It helps that the nearly 363,000-sq.-ft. facility, designed by Dutch firm MVRDV, looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, replete with stark white interiors and terraced shelves that cascade from floor to ceiling. All told, it has the capacity to hold more than 1.35 million books—although some feature embossed aluminum plates that mimic actual tomes, prompting criticism that the stunning space is, as one headline put it, “more fiction than books.” Nonetheless, Binhai Library remains one of China’s buzziest new attractions, which could help improve the country’s already high adult literacy rate. It’s a “social space that also promotes reading and inspiration,” says Winy Maas, a director at MVRDV. —Casey Quackenbush

Correction Sept. 25

The original version of this story misstated the status of China's adult literacy rate. China has a high adult literacy rate (95.1% according to UNICEF), not a low adult literacy rate.

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