by Jerry ElengicalNov 11, 2022
Free-spirited and sheathed in white, Books in Clouds - Duoyun Bookstore in Huangyan, by Wutopia Lab, is conceived as a “cloud symbolising idealism that slowly rises on the bank of the Yongning River,” in China. Duoyun Bookstore is informed as a small cultural complex made up of four volumes covered in continuous perforated aluminium panel walls, and united by a central courtyard that delicately interjects the beaming whiteness of the space. The youthful complex is home to various functions such as the entrance and courtyard space, the cultural and creative room, a lecture room, a coffee room, connecting terraces, exhibition spaces as well as the main core of the design, the bookstore.
Known for creating dreamlike sequenced spaces, Wutopia Lab relays that the design inspiration for Duoyun Bookstore was based on a mood – standing by the slow-flowing river one day, the chief architect and founder of the Chinese studio, Yu Ting’s eyeline was drawn to the horizontal composition of the distant and calming Chinese landscape. People swarmed the balmy riverside by the evening, elevating the space into a lively and cheerful one, cooled off by the gentle breeze wafting from the waters.
“I envied the tranquility and pleasant nature of this region, which is scarce in a bustling city like Shanghai. I envisioned right away, a cloud, calmly and slowly rising over and near the river. How better to buttress the sensation of getting lost in poetic landscapes and wordy dramas, of rousing speeches and magical fairytales than reading and existing within a cloud! A cloud rises over the riverside, and the readers of the bookstore exist inside the cloud,” explains Ting.
Continuous white aluminium panel walls cover the commercial facades, to reinforce the look and feel of viewing a wafting cloud from a distance, and to conceal the bookstore inside the said cloud, embodying sophistication, stillness, and knowledge, lying in contrast to the dullness of the concrete city. Fairytale white, which has become a signature of Wutopia Lab, also helps unify the four scattered masses as one bright, cohesive complex, with a central courtyard acting as the focal point. The typologies of pavilion architecture and Siheyuans (where structures surround a central courtyard on its four sides) were borrowed – the courtyard with its three side gardens on the front, south and west along with the wall integrates the volumes into a visually continuous complex.
Commissioned by Taizhou Huangyan Yongyun Cultural Development and Shanghai Century Cloud Culture Development, the bookstore design is realised across 1,726 sqm over two floors and lies in building one and three of the cluster of four buildings that sit on the edge of the river. The public site also contains a basement patio and an evacuation stairwell. Visitors step into the complex through the front yard, into the lifestyle and books area as well as a coffee pavilion on the east side, next to the river. A staircase from the café leads to the terrace on the second floor that hosts reproductions of rare books, with a possible extension of hosting an urban parlour in the future.
An interior aisle was added to the west side of building one, its first floor becoming the bookstore area. The entrance serves as the unique Duoyun shelving area (kiosk) and turns north into the main bookstore display hall. After passing through the cashier's desk, one enters the reading room that follows the aisle, followed by the cultural and creative area. Above this lies the museum space, while the bookstore is topped with a stepped lecture room. The second floors are linked to each other by quaint roof terraces that essay varying functions such as a children's playground, a mirrored terrace, a terrace to hold discussions around a fire pit and a labyrinth terrace that doubles as a coffee outing for users.
Colours waltz within clouds
The interior design is fitted with metaphoric elements that symbolise clouds, like carved out doorways, logos and outdoor seating. Five different coloured accents are used to signify the five main functional areas of the bookstore – apricot-orange takes focus in the books and coffee room that greets one on entry, transitioning into pine green for the main bookstore, becoming the foreground of the cultural and creative room ahead, a colour that is a staple of the Duoyon Bookstore chain. Soft crimson was chosen for the speech area on the second floor, while pink flows into purple for the exhibition area.
Pyramids and labyrinths
The Pyramid of Oranges, created by artist Roelof Louw in 1967, served as inspiration for the visual focus of the bookstore, where an orange coloured Ziggurat shaped book table laden with tomes was created in the foyer, while a similar emerald green book table is the centrepiece of the shelf area. This is further embodied by a translucent, triangular acrylic cashier's desk which serves as the visual focus of the bookstore’s hall.
One specific area of the store takes on a darker setting, dressed in timber, its floor to ceiling bookshelves and furniture turning into a labyrinth like space. “Transparent and translucent interfaces blur the clarity of light, creating a disorienting and curious uncertainty in the space. So much so that time seems to slow down a bit here, especially as one steps from the bright whiteness of the rest of the space,” mentions Ting. The river unfolds like a scroll in front of the raised sofa fixed near the windows of the coffee area, “matching that emotion I felt when I stood by the river for the first time,” he adds.
To increase the maze-like intensity, corrugated aluminum panels were employed for the ceiling, to resemble the rippling waters of the river outside. At the same time, the roof above the cashier area was turned into a mirror to reflect the sky. “I sought to condense the water and sky inside, to create a place where direction and time are lost,” says Ting.
Dreaming of white cloud gardens
Existing trees and plants in the courtyard area (also called the Court) were preserved for the final design, where three groups of trees formed a green island, akin to hills and flora surrounding a pond in a traditional Chinese garden, its placement borrowed from the willful compositions of painter Ni Zan, while the white stones and choreographed, pinched greenery references Japanese dry gardens. Sunlight sifts through the aluminium fence that surrounds the courtyard, to perfume it with dappled light and shadows, adding vitality.
Most of the White Cloud Court immerses the reader in a dream, where the outside world ceases to exist. Two cloud stools sit here, one eggshell white and one powder blue, made of plastic from recycled marine garbage. “This intervention comes from my daughter's education on environmental protection and the need for architects to express sustainable designs in all their creations,” shares Ting.
Reflecting on the contemporary architecture that distils within Duoyun Bookstore in Huangyan, the joy of reading and the calm of being near a waterbody, Ting relays, “Architecture is writing. I have always believed that a bookstore should reflect the spirit of the city or region, as it too holds the place’s history and essence. Duoyun Bookstore in Huangyan is my understanding of and response to the city, the people who live there, its culture. I believe that small cities in China lack a contemporaneous that shapes their own spirit. Architects should take care not to blindly pursue the fashion of big cities, especially the west, or be stuck in the orthodoxy of historical forms. It is entirely possible to extract the language of the past and metaphors to create new art forms and spaces that reflect the present. I would like to believe that one such work is this bookstore. If all small cities of China were as content and peaceful as Huangyan, with its history and scenery, and at the same time focused on carving its own future, without forcing a modern, cold aesthetic, then it would be a more layered, warm and beautiful place.”
Name: Books in Clouds —Duoyun Bookstore in Huangyan
Location: Taizhou, Zhejiang, China
Area: 1,726 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Client: Taizhou Huangyan Yongyun Cultural Development Co., Ltd., Shanghai Century Cloud Culture Development Co., Ltd
Architect: Wutopia Lab
Chief Architect: Yu Ting
Design Manager: Pu Shengrui
Pre-project Architect: Wang Zhuoer
Post-project Architect: Pu Shengrui
Design Team: Begoña Masia, Song Junzhu, Wu Yaping, Wang Jiajun, Wang Lei, Dai Yunfeng, Zhang Minmin, Guo Jianv, Wu Xiaoyan, Chang Xue’en, Lu Ye, Zhang Wensui, Meng Dong, Jing Yawei
Project Architect Assistant, Architect in Residence: Mi Kejie
Design Consultation: Office ZHU
Lighting Consultant: Chloe Zhang, Cai Mingjie
Construction Plan Deepening team: Shanghai c-yuspace Design Co., Ltd., Shanghai Zhiye Architectural Design Consulting Co., Ltd.
Construction team: Taizhou Huangyan Municipal Garden Construction Development Co., Ltd., Xingwei International Home Furnishing Co., Ltd., Zhangjiagang Yujia Metal Decoration Co., Ltd.