Chinese architecture studio Wutopia Lab has unveiled a maze-like bookstore located at the base of a recently completed brick-red office block called The Roof by Jean Nouvel, in Shanghai. Toyou Bookstore got its name from Big You Mountain and Little You Mountain. “Er” in Chinese indicates the number “two”. The two mountains are the site where scholars preserved books from burning by Qin Shi Huang. It is a symbol of the continuity of Chinese culture in the future. Taking the two mountains as the theme of the design, Wutopia Lad decided to spatialize the two abstract and symbolic mountains into the bookstore.
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 design therefore became simple and straightforward. When the reader enters the door, he or she will see a white mountain, which is a book-shelf made of white artificial stone. The light comes through the stone wall, and then it looks like a light mountain, which is the Little You Mountain of the Toyou Bookstore. The visible Little You Mountain is the recommended area for new and fine books in the Toyou Bookstore.
There is no distinctive visual image of the Big You Mountain in the Toyou Bookstore. Readers need to walk through the bookshelves and partitions to get to the main space of the bookstore, which is actually the interior of the Big You Mountain. The Big You Mountain is invisible because it’s too big. As the old saying goes, you can’t see the real face of the mountain, but only be thankful to be in the mountain. Wutopia Lab abstracted the interconnected caves into the spatial experience we are used to, rather than a realistic simulation. The continuous burgundy perforated aluminum 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. It is in this cave that the reader finds the secret book waiting to be uncovered. The typological refinement of the cave helps the architect to use the organization of bookshelves, partitions, commodities and book arrangements to create a very rich spatial experience in a small space, so that there are surprises everywhere and identical views at every step.
“Having a view every step of the way” is actually a basic technique of traditional Chinese garden design. When the readers realizes that, they cannot help but associate the experience of the Big and Little You Mountain with the tour of the garden. There are a lot of metaphors which the architect hides in those scenes. The shining white mountain behind the transparent glass outside the store (you open the door and your see the mountain, means “straightforward”), the well at the side of the Little You Mountain and the dripping spring (the old saying: the mountain is not about its height, the water is not about its depth), the Chineseness and a hint of Zen which readers would suddenly find out, defines it as a modern Chinese bookstore in the true sense of the word.
The circular space between the two mountains is the secret place. It is the bookstore owner’s private space, like a jug, in which there is heaven and earth, mountains, rocks, pines, books, wine and the himself, a cave in the midst of Shanghai’s glitz and glamour.
The client Mr. Lin from CIFI Group wants to make a special bookstore. He felt that most of the bookstores we encounter everyday only sell books and some cultural and creative products. He wanted to create a bookstore that showcases a lifestyle, is able to combine flowers, wine, tea and carefully selected books. Since designing the first Zhong Shu Ge flagship store in Songjiang, Yu Ting has been reluctant to design the so-called pure but dry traditional bookstores favored by fundamentalism. He believes that bookstores should not only attract people who love books but also accept ordinary people who do not love reading. A bookstore should be a miniature cultural complex, a social and cultural place with strong attractions in the context of the Internet-driven world. He felt that Mr. Lin’s concept was right in line with his vision, which is why Yu Ting took on this design.
The main space of Big You Mountain is divided into two zones, one is the reading area with layers and layers of corners. The other is the living area dominated by the long circular tables that Yu Ting calls “living color”. On the table like a scroll, you can have coffee, tea, wine, reading, incense, floarr and the leisure mood to take a few bites. This scroll is a concentrated expression of the complex commercial environment envisioned by Mr. Lin and Mr. Yu. But not only that, readers will find that in addition to exhibitions and roadshows, there are also ubiquitous flowers dotting the entrance to the cave, bookshelves, bars, tables and even the entrance to the bookstore. The so-called immortal mountain, where flowers bloom in all four seasons, stands for knowledge, the only thing that passes on to a hundred generations.
Yu Ting believes that architects can take the bookstore as a tool to understand the city and its people, then make a positive response to the culture of the city. Each bookstore can be a brief, or long enough, or very long time kind of comprehension and reaction. This kind of reaction makes the bookstore and the city benefit from each other. Unlike other bookstores designed by Yu Ting, the response of Toyou Bookstore is quiet, like a small poem. It is not a long poem, or a modern poem with an intense rhythm, it is not aggressive, it is very calm and even a little classical. Quiet is actually a very rare emotion for Yu Ting. Because his life is full of various twists and turns. With his sensitive personality, Yu Ting was not able to be particularly quiet. When designing and building the bookstore, a person who is not very quiet needs to face all kinds of anxiety from people. The subtle anxiety is like a slight breeze at first, and then it may be a little bit like a dark tide that is about to engulf people, Yu Ting has to be calm and quiet, and only when he can overcome himself can he comfort others. This is a quiet bookstore created by Yu Ting’s attempt to control the disturbance. Looking back on so many bookstores he has done, this bookstore can be said to be the most emotionally calm and the most soothing, with a smile during the wandering period, instead of all kinds of surprise or cheering, so the emotion here is quiet.
The reader learns about the world through books and knows how to better understand the world or understand other people. Through the bookstore, a tiny world carefully created by the architect, readers now have a shortcut to understand the wider world more directly. Therefore, Toyou Bookstore, a tiny world carefully shaped by Yu Ting, can become a portal for readers or visitors to gain a deeper understanding of Shanghai.
It took only 40 days to build this entrance. Toyou Bookstore embodies all the difficult training and thinking, and at the end it all shows an incredible ease, which is what Yu Ting understands as the essence of Chinese aesthetics.