We are in Yangzhou. The Chinese city is known for its graceful arched bridges, proximity to the Yangtze River and the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal.
Architects kept these local features in mind while designing Zhongshuge Yangzhou, a new bookstore that features something unique, and a real dream for every reader: black mirrored floors shimmer beneath arched shelves that stretch to the ceiling, creating an optical illusion that turns an ordinary, rectangular room into a cylindrical never-ending tunnel of books.
A zig-zagging gap prevents the top of the shelves from touching. When reflected on the floor below, the lighting bolt shape, which represents a river, acts as a pathway to entice visitors to drift deeper within the building.
Those who carry on path through the intriguing optical illusion will find additional architectural gems at the end.
The tunnel leads in fact to a children’s reading room where a series of LED lights turns the ceiling into night sky freckled with stars that twinkle above bright, whimsical shelves in the shape of a cityscape, reflecting the bustling, contemporary Yangzhou of today. There’s also an adult reading room full of curvy architecture and, of course, more books to browse.
The Shanghai-based architectural studio X+Living designed the tunnel, which was completed in 2016 under the direction of chief designer Li Xiang.
The design is inspired by the rich cultural heritage of Yangzhou, said to be a historical gathering place for literati and poets. The lead designer Li Xiang took inspiration from a verse in the classic Chinese romance novel “A Dream of Red Mansions”, by Cao Xueqin, which is thought to refer to the area in which the shop now stands. (“Spring flower and autumn moon, green hills and clear water; 24 bridges, relics of the Six Dynasties,” it reads.)
The arched shelving represents the 24 bridges in the verse, and a swerving line in the ceiling represents the clear water, or river itself. Visitors are supposed to flow with the river, swept along by the black mirrored floor, deeper into the bookshop and “into the vast ocean of knowledge“, as Xiang explained.