Dujiangyan Zhongshuge bookstore by X + Living is a surreal city of illusions

In Chengdu, China, this awe-inducing bookstore creates a paradise for bookworms with swooping arches, vast mirrored ceilings, and seemingly endless shelves.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Aug 02, 2021

Step through the glass curtain door, past a series of C-shaped bookshelves, and be transported into another world of swooping arches, winding staircases, and a seemingly endless array of books at the Dujiangyan Zhongshuge bookstore. Featuring a cavernous hall that seems to have been ripped straight out of the pages of a book or movie screen, the retail space is the latest in a line of Zhongshuge bookstores designed by the architectural design firm X + Living. Continuing the uniquely cinematic aesthetic pioneered in their previous collaborations with Zhongshuge bookstores - such as Taiyuan FAB Cinema, the Shanghai-based firm has crafted an awe-inducing environment in Chengdu, China - that is reminiscent of the soaring hallways and stairwells of Hogwarts Castle.

  • C-shaped bookshelves divide the entry forum and lead up to the dramatic centrepiece of the design | Dujiangyan Zhongshuge by X+ Living | STIRworld
    C-shaped bookshelves divide the entry forum and lead up to the dramatic centrepiece of the design Image: Shao Feng
  • The shelves are finished in natural walnut with embedded lighting design elements | Dujiangyan Zhongshuge by X+ Living | STIRworld
    The shelves are finished in natural walnut with embedded lighting design elements Image: Shao Feng

Described by the firm - headed by Chinese architect Li Xiang - as a ‘paradise for bookworms’, the space makes astute use of contrast to heighten the experience of emerging into the vast main hall, where the curved bookshelves preceding it induce a sense of intimacy and build up to the big reveal. Finished in shades of natural walnut with lighting design strips embedded into each rack, the shelves extend from nearby columns, with a “lively arc shape that blazes a new trail and subtly divides the forum area”. The shelves also gently guide prospective customers to the children’s reading area, which hosts an innovative bookshelf, developed with the aid of green bamboo. Adorning the shelves are illustrations of pandas - a symbol of China’s Sichuan province where the store is located.

Shelves guide visitors towards the main hall, infusing intimacy and building up suspense | Dujiangyan Zhongshuge by X+ Living | STIRworld
Shelves guide visitors towards the main hall, infusing intimacy and building up suspense Image: Shao Feng

From here, visitors are ushered towards the bookstore’s main attraction - the Central Literature District, articulated as a circular enclosure of high shelving with openings and arches that provide visual connectivity to other program areas. Said to be inspired by the Dujiangyan dam, this magnificent visual feast seems like a “city wall built with historical culture”, rising from the black tiled floor to the mirrored ceiling. The two bounding surfaces expand the space through multiple reflections that create an illusion of an absurdly large chamber extending infinitely upwards.

  • As the glowing centrepiece of the design, the Central Literature District is a vast circular enclosure punctuated by arched openings | Dujiangyan Zhongshuge by X+ Living | STIRworld
    As the glowing centrepiece of the design, the Central Literature District is a vast circular enclosure punctuated by arched openings Image: Shao Feng
  • Black tile flooring makes the book tables seem like boats moored on a lake | Dujiangyan Zhongshuge by X+ Living | STIRworld
    Black tile flooring makes the book tables seem like boats moored on a lake Image: Shao Feng
  • A vast mirrored ceiling adds drama to the space, extending it infinitely upwards in an illusion | Dujiangyan Zhongshuge by X+ Living | STIRworld
    A vast mirrored ceiling adds drama to the space, extending it infinitely upwards in an illusion Image: Shao Feng

Furthermore, as per X + Living, “The effect of black tile flooring makes the book tables appear like boats quietly moored on a lake. Changes in the architectural structure also reflect the dynamic aesthetics of climatic changes, whether it’s rainy, windy or foggy, as if the beautiful scenery of Dujiangyan is vividly presented within the interior design. A nearby café offers a respite for readers to get comfortable and quietly embrace a mellower atmosphere, compared to the dreamlike spaces surrounding it. The designers add, “Whether you stay for an afternoon or just drop by, you can appreciate the unique spiritual core of Zhongshuge, namely - giving all readers a very ornamental space, so as to produce ideological inspiration and create value.”

The spiral staircase at the space’s heart winds along bookshelves towards the upper level | Dujiangyan Zhongshuge by X+ Living | STIRworld
The spiral staircase at the space’s heart winds along bookshelves towards the upper level Image: Shao Feng

At the heart of the literature enclosure is a stunning spiral staircase that winds along the shelves towards the upper level. Spectacular views of the retail design below are on offer up here, simultaneously mirrored on the vast ceiling. “The design moves the magnificent spirit of mountains and rivers into the indoor space, presenting readers with an elegant and powerful artistic landscape,” mentions X + Living. Shelves adorned with innumerable volumes of reading materials have been arranged along the first floor to ensure optimum accessibility. Higher racks that are out of the user’s reach, are covered in a book-patterned film to maintain visual continuity.

On the upper floor, customers can admire the scenery below them while engrossed in a book | Dujiangyan Zhongshuge by X+ Living | STIRworld
On the upper floor, customers can admire the scenery below them while engrossed in a book Image: Shao Feng

As one of the latest examples of X + Living’s propensity for developing spaces that defy conventions, Dujiangyan Zhongshuge is an indisputably electrifying environment, the surreal embodiment of unfettered imagination translated into reality through design’s power of synthesis. Elaborating on this notion, the designers relay, “Whether it is through the use of tile technology to depict ancient people's wisdom in the reading area, or display the innocent happiness of encountering the bamboo sea in the children’s reading area, or even portraying natural scenery in the literary area, the design collectively aims to present a perfect destination for the soul with the harmonious coexistence of ideal livability and natural ecology.

  • Level One Plan | Dujiangyan Zhongshuge by X+ Living | STIRworld
    Level One Plan Image: Courtesy of X + Living
  • Level Two Plan | Dujiangyan Zhongshuge by X+ Living | STIRworld
    Level Two Plan Image: Courtesy of X + Living

Project Details

Name: Dujiangyan Zhongshuge
Location: Chengdu, China
Completed: 2020
Area: 973 sqm
Design: X + Living
Presiding Designer: Li Xiang
Project Director: Fan Chen, Wu Feng

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