Ningbo Altlife Bookstore

Ningbo Altlife Bookstore

Ningbo, Zhejiang, China - Build completed in 2017
Dirk Weiblen

Ningbo Altlife Bookstore

Kokaistudios as Architects

Kokaistudios designed for Alt-Life Bookstore in Ningbo celebrates space fluidity and variety, organic geometries and the notion of circulation as a journey, the ultimate 'people mover', the drive capable, through curiosity, to spark and sustain life in public spaces as well as in commercial venues.

A goal we shared with our client since the project's inception was to design 'a place for people to linger and spend time in', where the core function of books' appreciation was to be complemented and integrated by a wide variety of activities, enabling customers to sit and read, to study, to take part in workshops or live events. A thorough experience, in other words, aspirational and transcending the simple selling of products; a new lifestyle destination for Ningbo and the region.

A double height small auditorium and event space and a section dedicated to children were part of the program together with a teahouse, a juice bar, a coffee shop, and a bakery. Complicating the task was the fact that some of these areas were to be operated independently by third party tenants (as yet mostly un-confirmed) thus our design had to guarantee flexibility of use and capacity to adapt to multiple programs and brand identities while still being coherent and consistent design wise with the overall concept.

The bookstore is located in the basement of 1844 He Yi Plaza, along the South bank of Yuyaoriver, in the city center of Ningbo. It occupies a L shaped lot entirely underground. The program is articulated on two floors, the existing B2 (1600m2) and a newly added B1 mezzanine (800m2) for a resulting total gross floor area of near 2400m2 and is organized into three different main areas: the bookstore itself, an area dedicated to new technologies, food and beverage and a flexible public space located at the intersections between the two.

The journey starts at the main ground floor entrance, through a renovated glass pavilion located at the center of the stoned paved square. A hanging grand staircase, designed like a spiraling bookshelf, connects the entrance to the mezzanine and to the main floor below. During daytime, natural light floods the bookstore interiors through this glass pavilion, filtered and softened by translucent acrylic panels integrated to the white bookshelf modules. Conversely,at night, is the artificial light from the interiors lighting up the glass pavilion and making it shine; a shimmering showcase for the bookstore and for the many activities programmed for it.

The staircase lands at the mezzanine level, where seating and reading areas are located, and proceeds to main floor below. Four stairs provide additional vertical connections between the two floors. Along the perimeter, walls are entirely lined with full height book shelves, conceived as a continuum ribbon unwinding along all spaces, dividing or relating among them areas dedicated to different functions, guiding customers in their journey through the bookstore, and the manifold types of spaces that alternate in it.

Compressed, enclosed spaces, suitable for specialized functions, such as the children bookstore or the multifunctional space equipped for audio-visual events, seamlessly expand into open double height spaces like the central axis of the bookstore, or the book island, dedicated to family activities. Areas for circulation alternate with areas encouraging stay and individual appreciation of books or collective activities. 

Counterpoint to the wall mounted shelves, formally inspired by 1960's Michelangelo Pistoletto's labyrinthine playgrounds realized in corrugated cardboard, a similarly modular system of see-through free standing shelves and counters populates the bookstore, visually dividing the space into smaller 'rooms' and cozy areas, providing additional opportunities for seating and reading as well as displaying a variety of merchandise.

Geometries are fluid and organic. Material and textures are soft and warm in color, inspired to different qualities of paper, material historically and quintessentially related to the essence of books. 

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