The very best books transport you to another world, and the most magical bookstores help make that a reality. Chinese bookseller Zhongshuge is renowned for its stunning bookstores, and its latest outpost, in Dujiangyan, Sichuan Province, is no exception.
The bookstore, designed by architecture firm X+Living, takes inspiration from the natural world with sweeping, curved bookshelves, staircases, and epically tall, arched doorways. The effects of these features are multiplied by expansive, mirrored ceilings that will make you feel like you’ve stepped through the looking glass. For architect Li Xiang, who Fast Company recognized as one of 2020’s Most Creative People, that’s the point.
The surreal interiors are part of an overarching aesthetic for the firm, which has designed more than 15 Zhongshuge bookstores, each of which reflects aspects of the natural landscape in the shop’s locale. Whether the terraced fields in Chengdu or the mountains of Chongqing, Xiang typically draws design inspiration from the local landforms to give visitors a mental connection with the space.
While the Dujiangyan store is launching in a less than ideal environment, it’s likely better positioned than other brick-and-mortar stores around the world: the Chinese retail sector recently marked its first period of growth in 2020. But overall, the coronavirus pandemic and economic collapse have had dire effects on global economies. Over 100,000 small businesses across the U.S. have closed due to COVID-19, and with infection rates on the rise again, it’s likely they’ll be facing new hardships through the winter. Bookstores are no exception. Some iconic stores, such as Paris’s iconic Shakespeare and Company and New York’s Strand Bookstore have publicly pleaded for help. There’s never been a better time for an architectural homage to all things literary.
The concept for this bookstore, which Xiang says took a month to design and five months to construct, is based on a dam near Dujiangyan. Upon entering the shop, readers are greeted with large walnut bookshelves in the shape of an arch, which create intimate spaces for peering into book covers and builds a sense of movement through the space. The curved motif continues with books that fill the shelves of adjacent columns. Xiang compares the experience of walking through the arcs that divide the space as “stepping into a rolling mountain.”
All this is bookended by the mirrored ceiling and sparkling black tile floor. X+Living used a mirrored ceiling for the first store it designed for Zhongshuge, and Xiang now calls it an “iconic feature.” Functionally, she says the ceiling “effectively expands the space by reflection, creates an open and high feeling, makes the space more clear and surreal.” The grand effect is purely palatial.
Xiang wants readers to experience an awe-inspiring connection with the built environment that’s similar to what they might have in nature, so “when they stand in the space, their body would feel the big size difference between itself and the foreign object.”