Architect He Wei’s design philosophy is to not have one. «We do not want to use the architectural language and form that has been applied in prior works»
Opening its doors to the public in the winter of 2019 is Bookstore in 798 Art Zone. The structure was built to be a gallery space in the Ninety’s by architect Liang Jingyu, has been transformed into a bookstore by architect He Wei, of Hei Wei Studios and 3andwich Design. Wei’s background is situated in the Chinese countryside and its landscapes. He claims «every project is a beginning. Artists do not want to repeat themselves; they want to change and impart an idea with a challenge. We do not want to use the architectural language and form that has been applied in prior works».
Albeit is familiar with renovating and remodeling historical sites where his oeuvre is confronted. «Our projects are a renovation from the former building to a developed function. On one side, we look to save the icon from the building and on the other, we give it a purpose. The challenge is to balance the sides, creating a co-existence». When approaching this project, Wei’s objective was to find a balance. He preserved the Twentieth century Art Deco style of the two-floor concept store left behind by Liang Jingyu, to convey the memoir of its owners, the Faerber family and their Jewish American heritage. «Art Deco style is a symbol for the bookstore, a symbol for the town and for the history». Before being bought over, Bookstore in 798 was known as Paragon Bookstore which belonged to the Faerber family. The bookstore was founded in 1942 after the Jewish family managed to flee Nazi control and find refuge in Shanghai where they introduced European models to China. They moved to New York City and brought Chinese art culture with them for the American public’s consumption. After travelling in cities between the East and West, Paragon bookstore returned to Beijing in 2014 where they were bought over in 2019, now called Bookstore in 798 Art Zone. He Wei, his team and the new-found owner represent this maintenance in the structure, keeping the books on focus.
Remnants from the site include the south facade of the building that is lined with French style windows. As a design element, the windows act as a reminder of history, but can be construed as a marketing tactic, «the French windows help us to show what is happening in the bookstore as passersby can see the books inside». Design features that were maintained include the floor-plan of the building that is in a U-form – a problem to solve for the architect and his team. «Finding a way to connect two parts. The space in the eastern and western parts has a second floor that is not from us, it is from the former owner. We had to find the correct elevation of a post to connect the sides of the second floor of the south corridor». When asked about their practices, «We take on projects in rural areas where we use wood and stone. We want to use methods of sustainability to do the work. We use construction technology from the past». To create continuity between the two floors of the store, they focused on two areas, «From the first and the second floor, the space forms a ring. People can look in from one side and see the books from the second floor and the passage to the right side. From another side, the site looks down onto the space of the first floor and ends in the cafe area. The Art Deco style realized in the interior from the color and pattern, divide the outside from the inside». A trait that does not belong to He Wei’s designs is color. Featured through the furniture, flooring and walls of the bookstore. «Art Deco has yellow, green and blue». The bookstore uses orange for the floors of the stairway to guide people to the space. Keeping the books at the forefront of their design, He Wei shares, «we stayed away from becoming an ‘online celebrity bookstore’ – a trend in China, where bookstores or libraries are transformed by visitors to take photos. People visit for the architecture and not because they appreciate reading. We discussed with the owner and our team that we did not want to make a space for the sole purpose of photography». «Over 80% of the space is designed for the books. The owner asked us to make the space for 200,000 books».
The bookstore encompasses five zones: the library, cafe, multi-functional meeting area, mini exhibition space and VIP service. «For the book area, we use dark wood shelving with a black column and dark wood floors. We do this for people to focus on the books and not look at the architecture. In the cafe, we created a blue bar and Art Deco patterned floors. We kept the cafe at the entrance making it compact while providing a space for writing and leisure. The meeting room is not open every day, it is for workshops or meetings. Photos of the bookstore from its past are hung with text on the wall in the cafe». He Wei says, «Every architect wants to add to the design and function of building from the start. We want to give the building a face and style».
The Bookstore in 798, Art Zone is focused on providing Western Art books to the people of China. Alongside the library space, leisure zones and meeting rooms, the store acts as an event space for workshops, seminars and activities related to arts and literature in conjunction with the Central Academy of Fine Arts.IMAGE GALLERY
Bookstore in 798 Art Zone
798 Art District