Arriving in the Huangyang district of Taizhou in eastern China, Wutopia Lab principal architect Yu Ting felt instantly refreshed. Though urban, the atmosphere here is enhanced by its position on a wide peaceful river, the presence of the surrounding mountains, and a significantly slower pace of life than Shanghai, where the firm is based. On location to begin design work for the new Duoyun Bookstore, Ting was inspired by the city’s tranquillity and pleasantness.
“Suddenly, I decided there should be a cloud, calmly and slowly rising over the river,” Ting says. “Clouds have a sophisticated and pure beauty.” Thus, a particularly unique bookstore was born, incorporating a series of indoor and outdoor spaces that take you on a meditative journey, clearing your mind to make way for all the written content you’re about to devour. If the layout looks familiar, that’s because it’s based on the traditional courtyard houses of China, in which the most important internal spaces are grouped pavilions looking out onto a central outdoor area.
Even as you approach from the street, the bookstore has an ethereal feel to it. The facade is a white perforated metal screen that almost blends into the sky, the entryway a cutout shaped like a cloud. Those perforations vary in size to create a layered effect that either reveals or disguises the rest of the city beyond the walls. Ting describes it as “a serene and pleasant visual subtraction” that focuses one’s gaze on the real clouds that float above the river. Trees, dark gray stepping stones, and islands of grass also punctuate the field of white.
The courtyard doesn’t just serve as a mood setter. It was also a way for Ting to to bring together the various “scattered” volumes that already existed on the site and give them a sense of flow and cohesion. One is the lifestyle book area, one is the coffeehouse, and another serves as a display for reproductions of rare books. New additions house areas like the sales kiosks and main bookstore displays. On the second floor of the coffeehouse is a future “urban parlor room,” while other upstairs spaces serve as exhibition areas. Even the rooftops are connected into a series of elevated terraces looking out onto the city, giving you a whole new level of spaces to explore. They include a children’s play platform, a “discussion terrace,” a fire pit, and a “labyrinth terrace” to sit and enjoy your coffee.
“I insist that architecture should be full of metaphors,” Ting says. “We distilled the clouds into an easy-to-read formal symbol, turning them into doorways, logos, and even UIs, while the white of the clouds covers all the background spaces of the building to reinforce the symbolic meaning in the clouds and represent the Shanghai of the clouds. The orange color extracted from Huangyan’s most famous orange not only represents the Huangyan of Duoyun, but also becomes the main color in the foreground of the entrance book and coffee area. From white clouds to orange clouds, it is easy to build a story about five-color auspicious clouds.”
Clouds and gaze-directing white screens are common motifs in Wutopia Lab’s work, and in fact, in their previous bookstore designs as well. Check out their design for the ultramodern futuristic Zhongshu bookstore in Xi’an, China and their sci-fi inspired museum full of architectural models.