A New Chapter for Bookshops?

Book shops seem to be getting noticed again.

Time was when they were being written off as the dinosaurs of the retail world.

“Nobody wants to buy books anymore.”

“Everybody will be downloading books onto their kindles.”

“Bookshops are staffed by scholarly, unapproachable staff in stuffy environments which bear no resemblance to our digitally connected world order.”

“Kids don’t want to read books anymore, they’re too busy looking at the screens on their smart phones”

But witness the recent spate of book retailers hitting the headlines such as Waterstones. Its latest format strategy is to masquerade as ‘local’ bookshops in county towns with little overt evidence of parental ownership. Brand stretch in a dangerous direction I would suggest.

Then there’s Amazon. The bête noire of book retail has, inevitably in my opinion, opened its first bricks and mortar store in Seattle. And I was surprised and delighted to see the launch of the new Muji bookshop format in Tokyo. Muji? The ‘no brand brand’? What will they be thinking of selling us next? Well a Muji house, actually.

The world’s perception of bookshops is changing, in my view, with a number of important influencers. Are we seeing a shift from the stereotypical bookshop in the film Notting Hill, as a place of gay repartee, romantic encounter and celebrity dalliance?

Well, architects seem to think so. The proliferation of architectural bookshop concepts, realised or imagined, over the past couple of years is astonishing. I’m sure the inspiration started from the Tadao Ando Library in Japan, which was one of the most inspiring examples of using the monumentality of books as inspiration for architectural drama. The conversion of the Selexyz Dominicanen Church in Maastricht to a bookshop, the Zhongshuge Bookstore in China and the very cool Cultura Bookstore in São Paulo demonstrate how books can provide the ingredients for the creation of a literary cathedral.

Then there’s JK Rowling. She singlehandedly transformed reading a book from something old people do to something the younger generation love. If you take a look at the current best sellers which the millennials are buying, then yes they read books as well. Consider the massive following we are witnessing in teen fiction of authors such as Suzanne Collins, Tolkein, Milan Kundera and of course the creator of Harry Potter. Maybe a few architects should take a look at Harry Potter’s Flourish & Botts for architectural inspiration.

And then there’s superhero worship. Comics have become, and they always have been in France and Japan, an accepted literary medium. The Gosh! comic bookshop in London’s Soho is currently up for an accolade from the British Book Awards as Independent Bookshop of the Year. We wish them good luck!

So is Flourish & Botts the way to design bookshops or should we be inspired by towering rows of bookshelves as a kind of literary brick pattern, decorating architecture in a totally inaccessible but dramatic way?

Here are my four ‘must remember’ diktats for the design of any bookshop:

  • Bookshops are not libraries
  • Books sell better from tables
  • Front facing books sell better than spines
  • Contemplative areas for customers to graze through books are vital

Let me leave you with this thought. Bookshops should think way more out of the box and consider a more specialist approach. How about acknowledging the massive following we are witnessing in teen fiction as inspiration for book shops which appeal to this market?

I would love to design that project.



Callum Lumsden, Creative Director.

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