Step Inside the World’s Most Majestic Bookstore

The evolution of the bookstore has produced a number of spaces that stand apart from the rest: Paris’s Shakespeare and Company, The Strand in New York, and El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires are but a few that bibliophiles will enthusiastically list as their favorites. Now there’s a new store that rightfully deserves a place in the canon, China’s Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore.

two women at a bookstore
The bookstore features M.C. Escher–like stairs.

The 36,000-square-foot store is located in Chongqing, the rapidly developing capital city of the Guizhou province in southwest China. Designed by the Shanghai-based firm X+Living, the space features M.C. Escher–esque stairs and mirrored ceilings, creating an almost delirious, vertiginous thrill for visitors. Indeed, one’s perceptions can be questioned: All the volumes on the shelves seem to double as the mirrored ceiling reflects every shape and movement below. “The clients asked me and my team to create a bookstore that was also a landmark,” says Li Xiang, the president of X+Living and the chief designer of the project. “The glass ceiling enlarges the space, while creating something that appears more magical than it does real.”

looking up at the mirrored ceiling
A view looking up at the bookstore’s mirrored ceiling.

In 2018, China’s total retail book market was valued at roughly $13.4 billion, marking an 11.3 percent year-over-year growth. But much of that success was found in the online market space. Literary consumers preferred the ease of shopping online to that of browsing in a physical space; the latter, of course, lends itself to aimlessly browsing for new books, finding new ideas—a phenomenon that cannot be replicated in a digital marketplace. It’s been said that a town isn’t really a town without a bookstore, which is what makes designs like X+Living’s that much more relevant. Bookstores play a crucial role in making the written word widely available, while challenging dogmatic beliefs.