Novel idea: XL-Muse’s Yangzhou bookstore is inspired by classic Chinese literature

The Chinese city of Yangzhou is home to a stunning new bookshop
The Chinese city of Yangzhou is home to a stunning new bookshop, filled with surprises, optical illusions and references to classic Chinese literary romance
(Image credit: Shao Feng)

The writing's on the walls, ceiling and floors of Yangzhou's newest bookshop, where an optical illusion turns an ordinary, rectangular room into a cylindrical tunnel. Created by Shanghai-based studio XL-Muse for book retailers Zhongshuge, a black mirrored floor paired with two walls of arched shelving helps to create a seemingly never-ending funnel of books.

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 Xueqin's verse, and a swerving line in the ceiling represents the 'clear water' or river. 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', explains Xiang.

The cavernous, 1,000 sq ft space belies the unassuming store front. As visitors delve deeper, browsing as they go, a door to the right opens into a surprisingly large hall for reading, with smooth, curving ceilings and yet more books for perusal. Back through the tunnel and to the left, a charming children's area is covered by a night sky of twinkling LED stars and filled with colourful shelves in the shape of a cityscape, reflecting the bustling, contemporary Yangzhou of today.

Cylindrical tunnel of books

Designed by award-winning Shanghai interior architecture studio XL-Muse, the store has a black, mirrored floor, which creates the impression of a cylindrical tunnel of books

(Image credit: Shao Feng)

A historical gathering place for literati and poets

The design is inspired by the rich cultural heritage of Yangzhou, which is said to be a historical gathering place for literati and poets

(Image credit: Shao Feng)

Historical gathering place for literati and poets

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

(Image credit: Shao Feng)

Curving ceilings and yet more books for perusal

As visitors delve deeper into the tunnel, browsing as they go, a door to the right opens into a surprisingly large hall for reading, with smooth, curving ceilings and yet more books for perusal

(Image credit: Shao Feng)

Children’s area is covered by a night sky of twinkling LED stars.

Back through the tunnel and to the left, a charming children’s area is covered by a night sky of twinkling LED stars

(Image credit: Shao Feng)

colourful shelves in the shape of houses and towers

The children’s space is also filled with colourful shelves in the shape of houses and towers, reflecting the bustling, contemporary Yangzhou of today

(Image credit: Shao Feng)

An unassuming store

An unassuming store front belies the cavernous, 1,000 sq ft space inside

(Image credit: Shao Feng)

INFORMATION

For more information, visit the XL-Muse website (opens in new tab)

Photography: Shao Feng

Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees Wallpaper.com and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.