In Guiyang, X+Living designs a bookstore as a boundless cultural cave

Guiyang, China – We need to start keeping a tally: it seems as if every other week another gigantic bookstore is having an opening in China. A sizeable proportion of those are the work of one studio – X+Living – and for one client – retail chain Zhongshuge.

X+Living’s founder Li Xiang has tapped into a lucrative line of work, with China’s total retail book market valued at 11.8 billion euros in 2018, showing 11.3 percent year-on-year growth. This picture is mixed, however, with physical bookstores struggling to capitalise on the country’s growing literary appetite as consumers continue to shop online. Even more need, then, for designers who can elevate bookselling beyond its rather introverted stereotypes.

Books are placed in rows like stalactites, waiting to be plucked up by the first interested spelunker

In Guiyang – the quickly-developing capital of the Guizhou province in the southwest of the country – another of X+Living’s literary outposts has just come to life over a sprawling 3400-sq-m floor plan inspired by karst cave landforms. The practice's treatment for the curved corridor entrance of the Guiyang store is typically dramatic, with books placed in rows like stalactites along the black glass ground, just waiting to be plucked up by the first interested spelunker. As in the other Zhongshuge locations, Xiang embedded optical play into the experience, this time using chandeliers to create a sort of visual water flow whilst also contributing to the kaleidoscopic effect of the floors.

The path first leads to the boutique reading area, laid out in the style of a squared study with various book collections. Next door, a children’s library is imagined as a fairytale world with star-lit ceilings and colourful shelving. The walls are inlaid with traditional patterns from minority groups in the Guizhou province. As you proceed through the bookstore, the cultural and creative area and leisure space await. In the former, mountain-shaped bookshelves intertwine and wind along the walkway, and, in the reflection of the glassy floors, landscape paintings and the lecture hall eventually come into view. The latter, meanwhile, provides a setting for visitors to relax and read over their finds.

During Xiang’s Crowd Pleaser: Capturing China’s Imagination talk at Frame Lab 2019, she recalled her first experience designing for Zhongshuge, who briefed her to help them lure customers away from their screens (and preferably into a hardback). ‘The main aim of [that] project was to flirt with the consumers,’ said Xiang. ‘I needed to give readers something they could never experience while shopping online.’ As Zhongshuge's repeated commissions attest, she must be succeeding.

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