The Tunnel of Knowledge

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 storefront. 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.