CHANGSHA – In the capital of central China’s Hunan Province, at the top of a 17-storey apartment block, is a little commercial intervention that scales down the infrastructure of a city and inserts it into a vertical version of suburbia. Cao Pu Studio, an architecture firm from Beijing, has transformed an apartment unit into a bookstore and library. The project has a focus on community, looking to create connections between residents beyond grazing each other’s shoulders in an elevator, to the possibilities of chance encounters often made in environments at an urban scale.
It’s not often that a client requests a commercial retail fit-out of an apartment unit at the top of a high-rise. Initially this wouldn’t appear as a good business model, but with younger generations moving out of the complex, a more well-read and ageing demographic remains. Opening a bookstore in this apartment building starts the transformation of the hallway into a street. Cao Pu works with this notion by introducing signage on the side of the façade, only seen through a circular window when exiting the elevator. Many buildings of this type have circulation that, if scaled to a city, would be distinguished as a road with the main function of transportation.
If circulation is elevated from merely a means of movement to function as a street, the focus becomes a place that facilitates public interaction. With this in mind, considerations of material, vegetation, gathering space, and (as seen below) wayfinding take on a whole new appreciation, along with other tactics normally confined to the realm of an urban designer. The architect has also proposed a roof garden which extends the elevated street to an elevated public square. The roof is designed as a shared space for drying clothes and pickled cabbages. If the hallway/street is taken further and when the roof is completed maybe more community programmes or retail outlets will make their way to the tops of buildings.
Inside the bookstore, the architect has directed attention toward light and density. Examples of designing within the confines of existing small spaces repeatedly lean toward two outcomes: transformable furniture that allows multiple uses of a singular space or opening up of space as much as possible to give a sense of something bigger. In this example, the architect has decided to keep the existing walls from the apartment and cut a few holes in them, adding bookshelves everywhere.
Opting for even smaller spaces allows for partitions that can host 5,000 books and create desks for reading at. Instead of approaching the apartment as carte blanche, the architect densifies the already dense space, creating nooks and crannies that give people cosy spots in which to read. The openings created let in natural light through the space combating the originally dark environment, whilst also allowing connections between spaces that can inform interaction between visitors.
Throughout the construction process there were positive relationships made with the neighbours. The general consensus amongst the residents is that an elevated bookstore is a great addition to the complex. This project is a precedent for a more communal approach to apartment building.