Li Xiadong
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RAIC awards the elusive Chinese architect with its valuable international award

Chinese architect Li Xiadong has been awarded the inaugural Moriyama RAIC International Prize for his firewood-clad Liyuan Library in a village outside of Beijing. The Moriyama Prize was launched this year by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. It grants the winner $100,000 CAD, making it one of the highest award values in architecture. Only existing buildings that have been occupied for at least two years are eligible for the prize.

Li Xiaodong’s Liyuan Library opened in 2012 and was built not only as a temple of the written word, but also as a space for meditation. The building’s location was chosen because of its proximity with nature and the adjacent mountains. With respect for the magnificent and unsurpassable natural setting, the very particular firewood cladding was chosen. The material not only creates an interesting texture, it also allows the building to be unobtrusive. The interior unfolds around steps and layers that create private areas for reading. Fully glazed windows frame the exceptional views and let daylight filter through the space – daylight that is tempered and filtered by the raw wood exterior.

More important than its appearance, the 175-square-meter project serves a pivotal role in the local community. In fact, Xiaodong particularly insisted on the building’s function in his project submission statement. The library is entirely free to visit, but visitors are asked to bring two books in order to remove one. The project has also resonated beyond the community and attracted visitors and tourism to the rural region. When speaking of the project, Barry Johns, Chancellor of the RAIC College of Fellows and head of the prize jury, stated, “We need more of these types of perhaps modest, yet powerful buildings which make architecture from a deep understanding of people, culture, context, site, materiality and light.”

The overall project cost less than two hundred thousand dollars and was funded by a rural-development grant from the Lu Qianshou Trust in Hong Kong. The project beat out submissions from nine other countries to become the inaugural winner of the award. The next Moriyama prize will be awarded in 2016.