A journey into reading oneself: Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore in China

MUDA-Architects follows a theme of "reading in nature" for this lakeside bookstore in Chengdu, China, with its dynamic yet austere form emulating a book falling from the sky.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Nov 21, 2022

How can architecture incite a pilgrimage into understanding oneself through an orchestrated space in nature?

MUDA-Architects has designed a uniquely quaint bookstore in China, as a physical manifestation of the idea of "a book falling from the sky". Sitting poetic by a charming lakeside, the Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore is made distinct by its tapering roof that resembles an upturned book spine, with glass walls extending lightly into the water. The Chinese architects relay that the primary purpose of the bookstore, besides reading, is for visitors to immerse themselves in tranquillity; the architectural space aiding in developing positive self-talk, and inciting a journey into self-discovery, self-reflection, and healing.

The Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore emulates in its architecture, the idea of “a book falling from the sky” | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
The Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore emulates in its architecture, the idea of “a book falling from the sky” Image: Courtesy of Arch-exist

"Through this metaphor (of a book falling from the sky), we hope people can walk into this building to read themselves, and to complete a journey of self-discovery in a peaceful environment," shares the Boston and Beijing-based studio. Seemingly afloat, the project took shape as a drawing board proposal back in 2018, responding to the Xinglong Lake Bookstore Architectural Creative Design Competition. MUDA-Architects emerged as the winner, out of the 249 entries and 20 finalists.  

Design concept for the bookstore | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
Design concept for the bookstore Image: Courtesy of MUDA Architects

The scenic site in China called the Chengdu Tianfu New Area, has been identified as a crucial node in the development of The Belt and Road Initiative as well as the Yangtze River Economic Belt. "Ecological value in line with the developer to implement the concept of 'Park City' was first mentioned on the shore of Xinglong Lake in February 2018. To correspond with the development plan, the competition (was) prepared for creating a lakeside bookstore as a new landmark of Chengdu, which could leverage the ecological value and the human spirit collectively,” shares Lu Yun, lead architect of the project.

Aerial view of the Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore in Chengdu, China | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
Aerial view of the Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore in Chengdu, China Image: Courtesy of Arch-exist

"Taking this as an opportunity to reflect and embody the inimitable temperament and leisurely lifestyle of Chengdu, MUDA-Architects made efforts to convey the esteem of the local natural environment and add a new dimension to the future vision of landscape integration and urban symbiosis,” Yun continues.

The bookstore mirrors itself in the lake it rests by | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
The bookstore mirrors itself in the lake it rests by Image: Courtesy of Arch-exist

Reading in nature

Extending along the east lake shore of Xinglong Lake Southwest Bay Area in Chengdu, the bookstore design starts off as a 12 m x 40 m rectangular plane foundation. Two ends of the roof ridge are stretched vertically from 3 metres to varying heights, where the southwest end is elevated to 16 metres and the northeast end stops at 7.5 metres. "The curved roof surface is formed according to the height of four supporting corners as a flipped page, which reinterprets the pitched roof of traditional Sichuan folk dwellings," Yun elaborates.

Inside the quaint bookstore | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
Inside the quaint bookstore Image: Courtesy of HereSpace

The Chinese architecture is articulated in a linear expansion, to conform with the site and establish a direct relationship with the lake. The subaqueous glass curtain wall is intentional, becoming the waterfront bookstore’s attractive façade design, summoning a fairytale-like setting resembling a hand-made architectural model. Natural light reflects from the water before streaming into the interior of the commercial design, amplifying its deliberate, serene ambience. Meanwhile, the roof also cooperates with the rippling water, extending as a soft wave, worshipping the sky, and setting a dialogue with the natural environment.

The bookstore is articulated in a linear expansion to conform to the scenic site | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
The bookstore is articulated in a linear expansion to conform to the scenic site Image: Lu Yun

With the transparent glass façade, the store’s architecture introduces aquatic plants, water lawns, other vegetation, and allied water-based features into the interior space to correspond to the design theme of 'reading in nature'.

The glass curtain wall forming the façade extends into the lake | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
The glass curtain wall forming the façade extends into the lake Image: Courtesy of Arch-exist

The main entrance of the Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore is placed on its south end, hosting the reception area and gallery walls that rise upwards to form a simple yet splendid spatial sequence to greet visitors. An art gallery as well as a display area for sculptures is placed within this entrance area “to release a sense of tranquillity as the introduction of this book in architectural form,” mentions MUDA-Architects. Sunlight is cast inside the space through full-height glass walls on the left, accompanying the scenic views of the surrounding lake and the city that lies beyond. The secondary entrance houses a theatre space, office, and storage area, ensuring privacy, flexibility, and circulation spaces as required.

The back of the bookstore reveals tiny perforations on a solid wall | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
The back of the bookstore reveals tiny perforations on a solid wall Image: Courtesy of Arch-exist

Traversing through this exhibition space and descending a few steps into the expansive, sunken reading area forms the core of the bookstore. Here, readers can find various areas to get comfortable with their books, and themselves—by standing, leaning, sitting on steps, or relaxing on furniture.

The structural system of the entire contextual design is presented and supported by a steel frame, where vertical steel columns are subtly concealed in the keel installation of the glass curtain wall, and covered by the wall, leaving no traces.

The narrow meditation area | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
The narrow meditation area Image: Courtesy of HereSpace

Providing a unique underwater reading experience, this transparent wall extends about one metre into the waterbody, adding dynamism and a literal connection with nature, with light and ripples forming inside the water, and on its surface.

The main entrance illuminated at night | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
The main entrance illuminated at night Image: Courtesy of Arch-exist

The calculations required to build the underwater section of the glass curtain wall was carried out by considering the water level during flood season, to ensure its utmost quality, as well as testing it for waterproof performance multiple times. "The watertight process mainly focuses on the resistance of the glass wall against the water pressure and the airtightness between column and glass, and it is also designed to reduce the possibility of contacting water and steel structure. Hollow glass panels with double-sided adhesive strips are adapted to meet the functions and requirements. Using 3.2m x 4m form and four layers of stalinite along the lake, the design achieves outdoor water pressure resistance, indoor impact resistance, and building insulation and energy saving," the design team explains.

Chairs and tables are placed along the glass curtain wall to create a waterfront reading area | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
Chairs and tables are placed along the glass curtain wall to create a waterfront reading area Image: Courtesy of HereSpace

Imagine sitting in front of this glass wall, with a steaming cup of coffee and perusing a book about a travelling cat, looking into the water intermittently as fishes swim past, sending up tiny bubbles to the surface, gently rippling the flat, billowing grass underwater. The design studio recreates a similar setting by placing a row of café tables and chairs along this glass curtain wall, creating a tranquil, waterfront reading area, that also functions as a sit-down café design.

Close-up of the underwater feature | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
Close-up of the underwater feature Image: Courtesy of HereSpace

Injecting further interest to the spatial experience is the undulant water waves aided by natural as well as artificial lighting. Rocks and submerged plants are planted in front of this wall, becoming an ecosystem for the fish swimming by. MUDA-Architects paint a picture—"Visitors could take a seat and have an ambiguous conversation about the lapsing time and nature.”

With neither winding corridors, nor mysterious concealment, the whole space gives the reader unlimited possibilities, with great physical and mental freedom. – MUDA Architects

Ahead, a narrow corridor along the east wall with multiple windows dispersed in different sizes, forms the slender meditation area that takes into account reader's 'internal monologue'. The petite perforations permit daylight to stream in easily, casting dancing shadows, and relaying a short tale of time and its shifting traces.

Interior view from the front of the bookstore | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
Interior view from the front of the bookstore Image: Courtesy of HereSpace

The interior wall is installed with a slender horizontal opening, designed according to people’s eye level. “It creates a relatively enclosed space in the bookstore for visitors to ponder and catch a glimpse of the natural environment, which aims to remind them of the relationship between themselves and the world internally and externally,” Yun adds.

Interior ceiling detail (L); Shadows being formed on the ceiling from natural light reflecting on the water outside (R) | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
Interior ceiling detail (L); Shadows being formed on the ceiling from natural light reflecting on the water outside (R) Image: Courtesy of HereSpace

The architects relay that the site’s landscape design remains compatible with the design of the bookstore, respecting nature at its utmost capacity. The back of the Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore restores the original sloping contours of the site, forming layers of cascading grass and setting up an arcing landscape wall to echo it. Visitors are encouraged to rest on the grass and sit against or near the scenic wall, forming a space of harmonious coexistence among people, nature and architecture, like a screengrab out of a Studio Ghibli film.

Wooden platforms adorn both entrances of the 500 sqm bookstore, presenting readers with a peaceful outdoor experience amid nature, for resting and water-friendly activities, in tandem with providing additional space for the building’s operational activities.

The interiors of the bookstore are articulated largely in wood and concrete | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
The interiors of the bookstore are articulated largely in wood and concrete Image: Courtesy of HereSpace

The surface of the eye-catching roof adopts a materiality of titanium zinc panels imported from France, which are installed by using a 'flat lock system' that mimics the texture of fish scales glistening in the sun, correlating as a visual connection with the shimmering lake and its finned inhabitants. The texture of the diamond-shaped panels also corresponds to the traditional 'tile roof' form of Chinese vernacular architecture. The design team relays yet another purpose of choosing these panels as cladding—"The titanium zinc panel stays protected from its zinc carbonate layer and recovers from slight scratches by its oxidation. The outstanding intrinsic recovering capacity and the oxide layer would bring extra value and interest to the architecture.”

The main entrance (L); Titanium zinc panels clad the roof to mimic the texture of fish scale skin (R) | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
The main entrance (L); Titanium zinc panels clad the roof to mimic the texture of fish scale skin (R) Image: Courtesy of Arch-exist

More than 700 pieces of aluminium square tubes with a finish of wood grain extrusion are installed for the grille ceiling inside, "forming a united aura" for the contemporary architecture. Each piece is created bespoke, with its individual curvature that makes it easy to assemble, forming a smooth hyperbolic surface for the ceiling. “Insisting on obtaining a neat appearance, the mechanical extraction ducts, the smoke detection system, and lighting circuits are strategically wrapped in the gap between the ceiling and the steel frame of the roof. The grille extends from the ceiling to the foot of the wall to stress the tension of the space," the architects explain.

The bookstore frames views to the outside world | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
The bookstore frames views to the outside world Image: Courtesy of HereSpace

The endearing interior design is presented simply through a twin materiality comprising grainy wood and textured concrete. This also eliminates the need to depend on complex decorations, bringing a more comfortable, and enhanced visual experience for the readers.

Wooden aisles hold books | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
Wooden aisles hold books Image: Courtesy of HereSpace

“MUDA-Architects uses architectural language to propose the relationship between man and books, man and nature, and man and space. Within this building, mountains, lakes, and things are equivalent to people, we regain interest in each other while forgetting ourselves; within this building, people are awakened to face their true selves, and to repair degraded senses,” concludes the design team.

  • Axonometric diagram | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
    Axonometric diagram Image: Courtesy of MUDA Architects
  • Masterplan (top); Floor plan (bottom) | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
    Masterplan (top); Floor plan (bottom) Image: Courtesy of MUDA Architects
  • Elevations (left); Sections (right) | Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore by MUDA-Architects | STIRworld
    Elevations (left); Sections (right) Image: Courtesy of MUDA Architects

Project Details

Name: Chengdu Xinglong Lake CITIC Bookstore
Location: Chengdu, China
Area: 500 sqm
Year of completion: 2022
Client: CITIC Urban Development & Operation
Architect: MUDA-Architects
Design team: Lu Yun (Lead Architect); Zhao Guojun, Ni Dan, Li Yue, Le Jia Yi, Liu Xiao Siao, Li Jean, Liu Hanning (Competition Stage Design); Xu Jiandan, Lv Chenyu, Rong Dian, Ni Dan, He Fan, Mei Yixuan, Zhan Ziqi, Liu Bin, Jia Shuran, Liu Jingyi, Fu Yao (Design Development Stage Design)
Lighting design consultant: BPI
Curtain wall design consultant: Ji Li Curtainwall
Structural design consultant: iStructure
Building Construction Design: China CSCEC Design Group Co.,Ltd.
Soft furnishing procurement cooperation: Vandello
Water ecology management of the Lake area: Wanhua Qingyuan Water Environment
Landscape: Wanhua Landscape Center, Yu Dao Landscape Design

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