Hangzhou, China – In the age of Kindles and iPhone screens, to hold a real-life book can almost feel like an indulgence. And, as our technological counterparts become increasingly unavoidable limb extensions, we increasingly need spaces that answer to our need to disconnect and reacquaint ourselves with life before – the ‘old’ way of doing things. A bookstore is a logical place to fill this role. But how do we bridge from the classicism of this layout, recognising the fact that we are, in a way, an evolved species because of technology? In Hangzhou, the Harbook store designed by Alberto Caiola has these conflicted Millennial urbanites in mind: it has the expected elements in place – the café, the books – but it’s also a Scandinavian furniture showroom, outfitted by Normann Copenhagen.
Caiola built off of an image of an imaginary cityscape to achieve a postmodern reverie
The space itself is miles away from the cosy, musty shops one calls to mind when they think of the charm of reading. For starters, it's massive: the open-plan 600 sq-m giant could eat your local bookstore for breakfast with hardly a second thought. It also does that thing that Millennials love: it looks more like an industrial art gallery or an Acne store than what it actually is. And yes: that infamous dusky pink also makes an appearance in the café, painted on beams and columns that jut out into a communal seating area for readers. The design seems to promote itself, as if to exclaim that yes – your parents' idea of opulence is dead, and this is the new luxury that we should be aiming for.
For the overall aesthetic of the store, Caiola built off of an image of an imaginary cityscape, utilising geometric abstraction and vibrant, poppy colours to achieve a postmodern reverie.
Inherently, Harbook does respect a deeper literary context present in the environs. Hangzhou’s West Lake area has been a hub for writers, philosophers and poets for centuries. Today, the shop positions itself as a meeting ground for contemporary thought and honours the idea that there are still many new thoughts to be thought and many new words to be written. The stark, precise metallic panels that comprise the walls lend themselves to arched cut-outs, some in which the books are shelved, and others that provide viewpoints into the rest of the space. The ceiling is an LED light installation, which, according to Caiola, is a poetic metaphor for the enlightenment attained through reading.
In 50 years, perhaps Harbook will have even hosted the next wave of academic movements, achieving the cult status that bookstores like City Lights in San Francisco or Shakespeare and Company in Paris have for their part in history. One thing’s for sure, though: those future readers will have much more leg room to pore over their literary selections.