Chinatown Branch Library

The Chinatown Branch Library, part of the City of Los Angeles Public Library system, replaced an outdated and undersized library that operated out of a nearby high school.

Located in the Chinatown district, it was expected to reflect and carry forward Chinese and other Asian architectural traditions, while at the same time recognizing the demographic changes that were already occurring in the community.

The building design responds to this imperative at several levels. The plan is based on a traditional 9 square grid, with a roof / ceiling "courtyard" void in the center, bringing natural daylight into the middle of the building, just as a traditional open courtyard would do. A large, overhanging roof clad in copper references traditional green pagoda roofs, and red accents complete the traditional Chinese color scheme without overt mimicry.

The grills forming the entrance canopy are derived from traditional Chinese Muslim decorative screen patterns, and they cast patterned shadows across the building face during the library's opening hours.

Because the building site is a former landfill, a methane gas mitigation and monitoring system is also included.

The Chinatown Library is the recipient of the 2002 Rose Award for the Best New Building in Downtown LA, from the Downtown Breakfast Club.


Address: 639 N Hill St, Los Angeles, California 90012

Client: city of los angeles, bureau of engineering, Los Angeles Public Library

Construction Cost: $ 4.4 million

Building Area: 14,500 s.f.

Energy and Resources: Energy efficient light and plumbing fixtures, generous roof overhangs to shade clerestory perimeter glazing, high efficiency HVAC units, recycled content in building materials, drought tolerant planting, water saving irrigation.

Architect of Record: Carde Ten Architects