Toyou Bookstore ― 

A subtle narrative reflecting Chinese culture

In Shanghai, Wutopia Lab Architects recently completed the 452m² Toyou bookstore, staging a narrative by means of color and material selections.

The bookstore’s philosophy takes books as mountains, poems as books, flowers as decorations, tea as fragrance, and wine as a companion. If in “Er You” (in Chinese character) one adds a dot, it becomes the character “wine”: this is a magical touch to link the concept to the owner, Lin Feng, both a book and wine lover.

The design therefore became simple and straightforward. When the reader enters the door, he or she will see a white mountain, which is a bookshelf 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 books in the bookstore.

There is no distinctive 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 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. An abstraction of interconnected caves stage a spatial experience, 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. The typological device of the cave helps with 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 a basic technique of traditional Chinese garden design. When the readers realize this, they cannot help but associate the experience of the Big and Little You Mountain with a garden tour. There are a lot of metaphors that the architect hides in those scenes. The shining white mountain behind the transparent glass outside the store (you open the door and you see the mountain, which 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 Chinese cultural references 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 himself, a cave amidst Shanghai’s hustle and buzz.


Architecture: Wutopia Lab

Photography: CreatAR Images