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How architect Li Xiang turns bookstores into dreamscapes

Her interiors evoke the local landscapes, from mountains to terraced fields.

How architect Li Xiang turns bookstores into dreamscapes
[Illustration: Peter Oumanski]

Many readers seek escape through books. Architect Li Xiang turns bookstores into escapist experiences in their own right. For the most recent outpost of Chinese bookseller Zhongshuge, which opened last year in Chongqing, the design firm X+living outfitted a 14,000-square-foot space with staircases, ladders, and mirrored ceilings to evoke the lofty feeling of Chongqing’s mountainous, cable-car-filled landscape. Visitors are encouraged to climb up, find a book, and then sit on the steps to read. X+Living estimates that 200,000 people visited Chongqing Zhongshuge within the first 15 days of its opening. Xiang, whose efforts span retail stores, theaters, offices, athletic clubs, and the gallerylike Park Zoo Hotel, which opened in December 2018, has collaborated with Zhongshuge for years, designing 16 of its spaces. For the Yangzhou store, she made bookshelves that reflected the city’s arch bridge; in Chengdu, she created a reading amphitheater that calls to mind the city’s famous terraced fields. The COVID-19 pandemic “changed the way we live for right now,” she says, but “I see from people’s reaction during the quarantine that real experience, based on one’s sense organ rather than digital technology, is an [eternal] pursuit of human beings. We as designers should explore deep into it and try to create more surprise for people.”

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