For centuries, Chinese artists have drawn inspiration from Hangzhou’s scenery—its forests and famed West Lake. Today, the city— 110 miles west of Shanghai and connected by high-speed rail—has become a high-tech hub, with e-commerce giant Alibaba Group based there. Li Xiang, founder and design director of the Shanghai firm X+Living, skillfully fuses these influences—nature and technology—in her design of a 10,800-square-foot Zhongshuge Bookstore in the city’s Binjiang commercial district, close to the Qiantang River.
As customers enter the store, they discover a “forest” of white columns that double as vertical bookshelves. Mirrors on the ceiling and back wall of this space multiply the book “trees,” while glossy white floors provide a machine-honed ground plane. “Trees offer oxygen for lives,” says Li. “We tried to convey the idea that people need knowledge just as people need oxygen.”
Walking through a threshold in the mirrored wall, customers cross a long “reading corridor” lined with floor-to-ceiling walnut bookshelves and arrive at an oval-shaped reading room that steps up in a series of terraces. Bookshelves, also walnut, wrap around readers as they sit on beige cushions scattered on the tiered platforms. A wood floor and brass reading lamps add warmth to a space that feels like a cocoon for learning. Again, mirrors on the ceiling play games with the perception of space, fooling the eye into seeing an expanding universe of colorful publications. The 9-foot 2-inch shelves seem to go on forever. “We used round, stepped bookshelves to represent Qiantang [West] Lake,” says Li.
The Hangzhou shop, which has 20,000 books, is the fifth that X+Living has designed for Zhongshuge, after three in Shanghai and one in Yangzhou. Each has its own character but shares a certain DNA with the rest of its retail family, luring customers with a procession of dramatic spaces that entice them to browse, sit, and read. Each tells a story, says Li. In Hangzhou this involves the connection between the natural and man-made worlds.
Trained at Birmingham City University in England, Li founded X+Living (formerly XLMuse) in Shanghai in 2011, offering services in architecture, planning, interiors, landscape design, engineering, and design consultation. In 2015, she also started a furniture brand, Xiang Casa, building on this multidisciplinary approach. At the Hangzhou Zhongshuge store, Li filters traditional Chinese fixations—a forest, a lake, an outdoor scene—through a modern, international sensibility to create a series of memorable rooms that engage the store’s customers in a book-lined embrace.