Wutopia Lab's latest bookstore in Shanghai borrows from traditional Chinese garden design
Bookshelves made from perforated aluminium and quartz stone double as partition walls in this maze-like Shanghai bookstore by local architecture studio Wutopia Lab.
The 452-square-metre bookstore, which opened last month, is located at the base of a recently completed brick-red office block called Cifi Xintiandi (known as "The Roof" in English) by Ateliers Jean Nouvel.
The interiors, which are made up of interconnected cave-like spaces peppered with seating, a water feature, small trees and pot plants, were designed by Wutopia Lab for property developers CIFI Group.
"The client, Mr. Lin from CIFI Group, wants to make a special bookstore," explained Wutopia Lab founder Yu Ting.
"He felt that most of the bookstores we encounter every day only sell books and some cultural and creative products. He wanted to create a bookstore that showcases a lifestyle and is able to combine flowers, wine, tea and carefully selected books."
The bookstore's Chinese name is 二酉, pronounced Er You. "Er" in Chinese indicates the number "two," while the "You" refers to the Big You Mountain and Little You mountains – the site where scholars were said to have preserved books from being burnt by the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang in 213 BCE.
"It is a symbol of the continuity of Chinese culture in the future," said Ting of the story. "Taking the two mountains as the theme of my design, I decided to spatialise the two abstract and symbolic mountains into the bookstore."
The first mountain takes the form of a bookshelf made from overlapping panels of white engineered quartz stone. Located at the entrance to the store, this "little mountain" serves as a doorway to a room with an elliptical table at its centre.
The light from within the room filters through the stone wall to attract customers inside, where they will find the bookstore's new and recommended titles.
To the left of the little mountain space, an ornamental garden that contains a well and a "dripping spring" is partially hidden within a triangular room.
The garden room can be viewed through a low opening from the little mountain room and through a large circular window that is located on the other side, at the entrance to the bookstore's main space.
According to the architects, the concept of framing views within the interior is borrowed from traditional Chinese garden design.
The second "mountain," located in the centre of the bookstore, is never seen from the outside. Instead, visitors only experience the mountain's interior, which is conceived as a series of caves.
The caves are formed by bookshelves made from burgundy-coloured perforated aluminium panels. These bookshelves double as partition walls and are organised so that customers can explore the book shop as a series of small, intimate spaces.
"The Big You Mountain is invisible because it's too big," explained Ting. "As the old saying goes, you can't see the real face of the mountain, only be thankful to be in the mountain."
"I abstracted the interconnected caves into the spatial experience we are used to, rather than a realistic simulation," he continued.
"The continuous burgundy perforated aluminium panels forming the caves, and the bookshelves forming various corners and spaces to sit in, are in fact the interlocking caves in Big You Mountain. There are surprises everywhere and identical views at every step."
The main space of the Big You Mountain is divided into two zones – one is dedicated to reading, with plenty of quiet corners and seating, and the other is given over to a living area populated by a long semi-circular communal bench table set with chairs.
The tables provide a place for customers to sit and read while enjoying the scent of burning incense and drink coffee, tea or wine.
A hidden circular room sits at the centre of the floor plan between the two "mountains."
"The circular space between the two mountains is the secret place," said Ting. "It is the bookstore owner's private space, like a jug, in which there is heaven and earth, mountains, rocks, pines, books, wine and himself – a cave in the midst of Shanghai's glitz and glamour."
Believing that bookshops should serve as cultural venues that attract a wide audience, Ting's Shanghai-based firm has designed a number of experimental bookshops.
Elsewhere in the city, the firm transformed Building 25 of the Sinan Mansions into a bookstore that takes inspiration from the human body and mind, while in Wuhan, the studio's renovation of the Hubei Foreign Language Bookstore involved inserting a shard-like glass lightwell that pierced through its six stories.
Photography is by CreatAR Images.