At This Bookstore in Wuhan, China, Light Represents Knowledge and Emotion

The first of nine case studies on lighting strategies across global interiors, the Hubei Foreign Language Bookstore considers light’s symbolic nature.

Light is a guiding factor at the Hubei Foreign Language Bookstore in Wuhan, China. In the lecture hall, a dimmable luminous ceiling and adjustable downlights provide neutral white lighting desirable for holding events. In reading rooms and circulation areas, warmer color temperature is key. Courtesy Creatar Images

Editor’s note: This project in Wuhan, China, was selected for our April issue before the full extent of the coronavirus infection there became known. The quarantine in the Chinese city was lifted this week, with residents emerging after 10 weeks indoors, and authorities continuing to monitor the situation as infection rates fall.

A book is an entire world. And for Chinese architecture firm Wutopia Lab, bookstores are also complex lands in themselves—places in the city that help shift perspective and “light up our lives,” according to founder and chief architect Ting Yu. In renovating the 108,000-square-foot Hubei Foreign Language Bookstore in Wuhan, the firm first considered light’s symbolic nature. With this in mind, Yu’s team inserted a glass “light cone,” an inverted-pyramid–shaped void that brings daylight down to all six floors of the building. For Yu, the experience represents a “landscape that symbolizes knowledge and even represents human emotion. It creates an unreal experience in a real site.”

But in the bookstore, light is more than just a poetic symbol: It’s also a powerful tool for wayfinding. The architects, working alongside lighting consultant Chloe Zhang of Gradient Lighting Design, used four distinct light levels and two different color temperatures to help delineate the complex program of reading rooms, art galleries, lecture halls, teahouses, and restaurants. Each section in the store varies from the ones next to it, ranging from the brightest white lighting (the lecture hall, which is defined by its vast luminous ceiling) to the more ambient warm lighting (individual reading rooms and circulation spaces). Zhang explains, “When guests look through the light cone at the different lighting conditions, they can easily figure out where they want to go.”

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