HANGZHOU – Tweets and texts are distracting today’s teens from serious reading, and if they are impelled to buy books they are likely to do so online. Traditional bookstores are taking a hit, even in China, where respect for literacy is deep-rooted. The present situation persuaded a teacher-turned-publisher to envision a bookstore that would be a destination – for socializing as well as browsing. He commissioned three Zhongshuge stores in his native Shanghai from Li Xiang, who heads local architectural firm XL-Muse, and then asked her to go a step further and create China's most beautiful bookstore in the ancient city of Hangzhou.
The designer seized the opportunity, transforming a generic 1,000-m2 retail space in the bustling commercial centre of Star Avenue in the Binjiang district. To compensate for the low ceiling height, she fitted large mirrors overhead, effectively doubling the volume and creating a magical play of reflections. The mirrors encourage customers to look up to the higher shelves and become active participants rather than passive spectators within the store. The mirrors are securely attached by screws and shatterproof membranes at each corner, without distracting from the seamless expanse of reflected imagery. Inset pin spots add a sparkle to the illusion.
A transparent façade draws customers into this house of mirrors, through a forest of tall white columns that serve as vertical stacks. Beyond is an elliptical enclosure, lined with bookshelves and lit from a circular skylight. At the base are cushioned benches with reading lights, to encourage buyers to linger. A concourse with dark wood shelves and hanging lamps contains a row of reading tables.
Parents are encouraged to bring their children and leave them to explore an elaborate playground that fuses entertainment and learning. Books are displayed on fanciful blonde wood shelving amid funfair rides, and the floor is a map of the galaxy that instructs and inspires. There is a café that stays open late and a lively programme of book signings and lectures that attracts a diversified clientele.
Building on the success of this project, XL-Muse is currently designing more bookstores for the same client.
Photos Shao Feng