The structure of the mezzanine in metal imposes limits that exclude the possibility of loading it with the weight of the books – In conversation with architect, Pietro Peyron
Walking along the banks of one of the three rivers that bathe Ningbo, you find yourself in the heart of the city, in one of the squares defined by a colonial building – first an English girl’s school, then a culture center – trailing a shopping mall. In addition to the two buildings, the attention is drawn to a glass and concrete pavilion that serves as the entrance to the Altlife Bookstore. Designed by Kokaistudios and directed by the architect and associate partner for ten years, Pietro Peyron, the store is developed underground.
Open to the public three years ago, the bookshop was born from the desire to renovate a preexisting space used for bicycle parking, removing an inter-floor slab, creating a space twice as high. The volume of the entrance remained: it appears in its hexagonal shape as a showcase that turns in and out through shelves that interact with the square and the urban scene. The above-ground shelves display the initiatives promoted by the bookshop and the catalogs of the moment. Subjected to reorganization, the appearance of the pavilion changes, presenting itself as a space dialoguing with the city. Being the entrance and the source of light, the glass pavilion was the foundation of the architectural process: a second internal layer was the first architectural gesture that gave shape to the space. Passing by the glass shell and the constructed display, the scene is dominated by a staircase, suspended from the attic, with a structure independent from the pavilion and without pillars cluttering the space below. Conceived as a device to attract the audience downstairs, it acts as a system to channel light without filtering it, guiding the audience into the basement. It is the white element of the project, standing out as a focus at the intersection of the axes in which the bookcase develops. The space is L-shaped, but the perception of the interior dissolve’s awareness of a defined geometric structure. The route does not propose a single path, but offers visions of two or three alternatives that allow the customer to choose where to go, moved by curiosity, necessity and attraction.
Kukaistudios deals with projects of scale and categories. The last was a landscape project in Beijing in the form of a commercial street, in line with the demand of the Chinese market which is holding back urban expansion, proposing a renewal of space. In designing commercial-spaces, the studio is opposed to the thought by which the retail experience suggests users a mandate, leading them in front of each product according to the ‘Autogrill’ scheme. The design principle of the studio is formulated around the idea that a project offers multiplicity. Kukaistudios follow one rule: to create social spaces where people can participate. The Altlife Bookstore achieves these objectives by recreating cities, articulating spaces developing environments on levels, and generating integration between people. The bookstore is the design of a labyrinth which does not hinder the experience. In the middle of the staircase, you dismount on a mezzanine, from which two possibilities appear: continuing descent in an open space modulated by shelving with metal structure that puts no limits on the gaze or heading towards the auditorium. The double-height space offered the opportunity of inserting an intermediate floor due to engineering measures that have solved the problem of height limitations by constructing a floor, centimeters thick. The space defines a ‘public-square’ in the form of a balcony, which in the intention of the client, was to be used by families. In the reality of design, it offers itself as a resting space for reading or as a flexible space to accommodate workshops: the structure of the mezzanine in metal imposes limits that exclude the possibility of loading it with the weight of the books.
The commercial and retail areas are concentrated in basement two. The fulcrum of the floor below is articulated under the skylight, at the end of the staircase, in an agora that can be converted into a space for the presentation of products, while the staircase and shelves are used as displays for photographic exhibitions. In the space facing the square, at the end of the branch of the ‘L’ lies the auditorium. Defined by a staircase and doors that can isolate the volume, the auditorium hosts book events, music concerts, speeches, art classes and poetry readings. An event space is located in the children’s area, protected beneath the mezzanine and designed with a soft-floor. A single material envelope the interiors, including the children’s area, interspersed with accents of green, the color chosen for its playfulness. Wooden shelves run along the perimeter of the space, defining its boundaries. The interiors are dictated by the shape of the pavilion with its geometries signifying the aquatic element of the river that runs by the building. The resulting image insinuates an analogy to the labyrinthine playgrounds realized in cardboard by Michelangelo Pistoletto in the Sixties. Work in China is based on dexterity, ease and cost-effectiveness of labor: the store was created on site and the furniture, prefabricated elsewhere in part and assembled on site.
In Asia the ‘lifestyle bookstore’ concept is a space that combines books with restaurants, bars and refreshment areas. The 2,400 square meters of Altlife include the part of the bookshop and tenants such as Starbucks, a tea house and a snack point. The design of the project had to respond to maintain coherence among the brands and adapt to withstand changes over time. The space limited the details requested for color, logo and shape. The ‘lifestyle bookstores’ are outlined this way to make visitors stay. The leitmotiv of these complexes is the cultural product combined with the criteria of the gift shop. Altlife is the result of a partnership between a Chinese publisher and a joint venture of boys. Altlife was the first bookstore that paved the way for a series, including one in Shanghai designed by Kukaistudios. It is from these premises that the project was born with a limited budget, it had to implement sustainability in financial terms. Sensitivity to reuse is a form of sustainability pursued by Kukaistudios, aiming at recycle, renewal and transformation. Not made for commercial use, the plant engineering of Altlife has undergone alterations to optimize the heights: if the false floor would have lowered the ceiling, the exposed pipes, masked by screens would have allowed for the recovery of space. Along the ceiling, perpendicular to the axes of the L-shaped plan, the lighting is integrated with the displays, recalling them in hot temperatures. The Altlife pavilion at night is a lantern, adding to the lights that decorate the Ningbo nightlife skyline. The city pullulates of bars and restaurants opening up to hedonism flocking the riverside at night and frequenting the vicinity designed by architecture firm Mada s.p.a.m, during the day.
The program restrictions, the economic limits, the relationship with a pre-existing building are characteristics of the bookstore project that have been coalesced with the architectural vision of the designer, Pietro Peyron. An Italian architect, trained at the IUAV in Venice, working from Barcelona to China, fascinated by the buildings of the architect, Enric Miralles.IMAGE GALLERY
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