How many times have you read about bookstores going obsolete over the last ten years? But regardless of all those predictions, there are still a ton of them around us. It’s true that many independent bookstores have closed shop, but it’s also true that many others have remained open, including specialty stores that dedicate themselves to selling one particular kind of book (cookbooks, for instance).
China’s Zhongshuge bookstore chain is one of the retailers proving the prognosticators wrong, but unlike its peers, it’s using photographic interior design to draw people in.
On January 25 of 2019, Zhongshuge opened their newest bookstore in Chongqing. A maze of staircases surrounded by books in a space topped by a mirrored ceiling, it’s surreal interiors are marked by seemingly endless wall of books and stairs. This aesthetic helps strengthen the public’s perception of Zhongshuge as a store with an unmatched number of books — the place you go to when you want a very specific book because you know it can’t be found anywhere else.
The architect behind this dreamy space is X+Living’s Li Xiang, who has previously been responsible for similar interiors in other Zhongshuge locations across China. In all of these locations, the energy of the city is brought into the store so that as the shopper moves around, they feel like they are walking through an extension of the urban life outside. They also become just as impressed with the store design as they are at finding what they want, which they eventually almost always do. The added visual stimulation is just another way to draw the customer into the store and keep them shopping just a little bit longer.
Walking into a new Zhongshuge location is supposed to be a liberating experience for the shopper. When the one just outside of Shanghai first opened, Xiang compared it to a forest of books in an article for Architectural Record. “Trees offer oxygen for lives,” she said. “We tried to convey the idea that people need knowledge just as people need oxygen.” This makes sense, since the written word makes up an essential part of society and the transfer of knowledge between generations.
Similar to the other Zhongshuge stores, the Chongqing location gives tens of thousands of books a special home to be viewed and bought. It places the written word on a pedestal by enclosing it in a mirrored cathedral. And with all the information that’s available today, it’s safe to say there’s endless reading to do. Subjects are created every day, and more gets written every hour.
When customers enter the store, they find that the collection of stairs and placement of mirrors helps them navigate the interiors. Many people can be seen taking photographs from different landings in here, but even that just helps them discover more books.
In a way, Li Xiang has proven that a physical store can be resilient to the competition from online retailers. People will continue to visit stores just as long as they foster compelling in-store experiences that don’t come off as gimmicky. The Zhongshuge location in Chongqing is an authentic representation of both the limitless nature of the written word and our loyalty to the physical book.