Once a small fishing village, the region of Shenzhen has transformed into one of China’s most populous cities. Since becoming a special economic zone in 1980, this area holds a global community of entrepreneurs and trailblazers who have helped shaped the dynamic city that stands today. Last month, an extraordinary new bookstore, Shenzhen Zhongshuge, emerged in Shenzhen, and its designers at X+Living wanted to pay homage to the transformation and progress of the city through design.
“These achievements and history are the result of the sweat and hard work of pioneers. The city has been forged by countless dreamers,” said Li Xiang, founder of the Shanghai-based architecture firm. The firm is known for its whimsical and extraordinary projects, including an Antoni Gaudí–inspired kindergarten in Huzhou, China.
In the beginning stages of the project, Xiang and her team ideated how they could create a bookstore to represent the city’s history. “In the process of researching the cultural background of this city, I realized that I could design a space which could become a symbol of Shenzhen itself, as an inclusive and vibrant city of migrants, paying tribute to all those who have struggled to make history in this city,” Xiang says.
Inside the 14,000-square-foot store lined with books, a massive, twisting, sideways staircase runs through the space, connecting the bookstore’s entrance to the exit. The impressive bookcase represents history itself, according to Xiang, while symbolizing the speed at which this area of China flourished and grew. “The development of history is spiraling and twisting, and the historical trajectory to advance society by those pioneers is condensed into a hieroglyphic spiral ladder,” Xiang explains. “This is a ladder of history that has been built up over countless hours, conveying the sense that history is being pushed through time at a rapid pace.”
The staircase serves both as a symbolic art installation and a functioning bookcase, where customers can peruse literary favorites. For this piece, Xiang was inspired by contemporary artist Anish Kapoor, specifically by his work, Memory, which she saw for the first time at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. Just as Kapoor’s steel sculpture appears to defy gravity, so does the bookstore’s massive spiral bookcase.
X+Living designers used a different aesthetic when approaching the children’s room in Shenzhen Zhongshuge. A painted carousel can also be used as a table where children can sit and read. The design team used simple graphics and lines—reminiscent of a child’s brushstrokes—to create the little castle and ferris wheel, which also serve as bookshelves. Choosing a color palette of warm oranges and pinks, combined with cool blues and purples, the designers wanted this space to be evocative of the joyful and fun memories of childhood. Shenzhen Zhongshuge was completed in November 2021 and is currently open to the public.