40 years ago, China underwent revolutionary economic reform and saw the passing of transformative opening-up policies. The cultural impact was powerful: rapidly globalizing, China sharpened its focus on foreign communities and global society, and it was during this time that Wuhan’s massive Hubei Foreign Language Bookstore was built. The 9,506-sq-m, seven-storey literary mecca has now been reimagined by Wutopia Lab for a new generation.

Wutopia’s architects and designers began the project by investigating the relationship that people had with the original space. Many, they realized, described Hubei in metaphorical terms – as it being a ‘lighthouse or window’ into the ‘outside world’, according to a spokesperson. Thinking of how Chinese people once used signs and symbols to understand their connection with traditional architecture, Wutopia’s creatives challenged themselves to remould Hubei with ‘positive and understandable symbolism’. They hope that the new interiors re-establish a cultural relationship between the space and the residents of Wuhan.

Inviting passersby to escape their concrete surroundings, the bookstore’s exterior façade is clad in perforated aluminium plates, cut into abstract green hills that harmonize with trees planted along the sidewalk. Inside, there are a variety of spaces: ‘urban-art living room’, 24-hour study room, children’s library, multiple themed reading rooms and a retail space for rare books on the roof; amenities continue with everything from a teahouse to a living technology area.

‘When our design team took over Hubei Foreign Language Bookstore project, we found that it had gone through expansions and reconstruction in different periods,’ explains the spokesperson. ‘The first thing we needed to do was remove parts from unsafe expansions, then strengthen each addition from different periods into a solid whole.’ As a nod to locals likening Hubei to a lighthouse, Wutopia created a reinforced light cone that runs from the roof garden to the first floor, allowing changes in weather and time of day to be reflected in every corner of the interiors. Green space plays an important role in the project too: planter panels of varying sizes appear on the walls of each floor, even the basement.

‘Bookstores are complex systems that are constantly growing and updating. Therefore, Hubei Foreign Language Bookstore is not only a bookstore, but also a cultural and creative combination of lifestyles and aesthetics.’