Dujiangyan Bookstore in China is fairytale-like and surreal

Located west of Chengdu in the Sichuan province, the bookstore features gravity-defying staircases and infinite bookshelves which looks like it came straight out of one of Dutch artist M.C. Escher’s fever dreams. 

An article in the Smithsonian wrote that architect Li Xiang, founder of Shanghai-based firm X+Living, designed the 973 square metres bookshop, which draws inspiration from the Unesco World Heritage–listed Dujiangyan irrigation system. Certain architectural elements resemble water, nodding to the many rivers that flow through the city.

“We moved the local landscape into the indoor space,” Li tells Architectural Digest’s (AD) Elizabeth Stamp. “The project is located in Dujiangyan, which is a city with a long history of water conservancy development, so in the main area, you [can] see the construction of the dam integrated into the bookshelves.”

The Dujiangyan store which opened in 2020 is inspired by Zhongshuge’s typography and uses a mirrored ceiling to simulate a sense of limitless openness. Book-laden, ceiling-high shelves echo the curves of nature, while glossy, black-tile flooring makes reading tables scattered across the space resemble boats moored on a lake.

Visitors walking through the labyrinth-like store will find areas designed to fulfill different purposes. The first floor of Dujiangyan Zhongshuge houses a café and children’s area filled with colorful cushions, while the second floor accommodates seating for individuals to read, work, or meet. The bookstore has a collection of over 80,000 books — but admittedly, not all of them actually extend upward. According to Li, the firm used film printed with images of books to give the illusion that the titles stretch from floor to ceiling. “If we placed real books on the upper shelves, it’s not only hard for readers to reach them but also difficult for operators to take care of,” Li told AD.

As Li notes on Instagram, the tomes placed on the bookshelves’ highest levels are purely decorative. But all books within readers’ reach—some 80,000 volumes spanning more than 20,000 categories—are “readable,” she adds. 

Photography by SFAP

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