Nearly 10,000 feet of undulating stark white steel bookcases allow a dazzling collection of books to shine at the new Zhongshu Bookstore. Located in Xi’an, China, a city best known for its subterranean collection of ancient life-sized Terracotta Warriors and Horses, the bookstore by Shanghai-based firm Wutopia Lab reaches into the future with spaceship-like aesthetics.
The architects realized their dream of creating a reading space that feels like it’s in the clouds, eliminating right angles and most straight lines other than those of the horizontal bookshelves set into the walls.
Full of bright-yet-diffused light designed to mimic natural daylight, the space is full of arched doorways, reading nooks, and floating displays that look like something straight out of Star Wars. Individual books the store wants to highlight hang down from the ceiling, illuminated by skylights and ribbons of fixtures overhead.
300 tons of steel and 30,000 meters of light strips went into the ultramodern bookstore, and to adhere to strict local fire codes, the architects used five-millimeter-thick steel plates to create the customized curved bookshelves. Precise structural calculations allowed them to create a steel frame hidden behind the foundation to support the structure.
The free-flowing nature of the space creates seemingly endless nooks and crannies, allowing the store to retain the cozy feel of a library, a place to discover and connect with books, despite its modern design. Wutopia Labs calls the central public reading area “a pantheon,” where structural beams display a rack for Zhongshu’s “Book of the Month” selection, which can only be viewed by one person at a time.
The floor slab is made of glass to mimic the look of water, and the space underneath holds a room for meetings, reading, and conferences. The children’s library is described as a “crystal structure hidden in the forest,” featuring translucent acrylic panels decorated with white silhouettes of animals and trees, as well as a child-size entrance.
The architects explain: “We built a pillarless white curvy staircase, highlighted by a spiral white panel, surrounded by custom-made white acrylic walls. Readers come in from their everyday lives, heading up the stairs step by step, and are encouraged by the spirit of knowledge and curiosity displayed through the books around them to enter the bookstore over the clouds.”
“Digital concepts and technologies are used in order to realize such a soft and free space: each piece of steel plate has been optimized through programming, processed by CNC machine tools, and then assembled on-site according to the numbering.”
“I hope [our] architectural practices reiterate our everyday life through immense imaginations and dramatic artistic expressions. I also hope they transform reality into a “magic reality” and create an illusion that uncovers bits of truths in our lives. Miracles, raising from ordinary life, are believed to be both a magnification and a fated outcome of ordinary life — the stories of which can be colored and told in an extraordinary fashion. Zhongshu Bookstore pays tribute and performs a white Divine Comedy to the capital of thirteen dynasties — Xi’an.”