Sinan Poetry Books Store, Shanghai by Wutopia Lab

Wutopia Lab,

CreatAR Images,



Refurbishment, Interior Design,

A poetic project to accommodate a bookstore for poetry. The Shanghai-based Chinese architecture firm, Wutopia Lab has converted the old orthodox St. Nicholas Church in Shanghai into a specialty bookstore.

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Sinan Poetry Books Store, Shanghai by Wutopia Lab
We often describe architecture projects as “poetic” but rarely is the word used as appropriately as it is for the Sinan Poetry Books Store, Shanghai by Wutopia Lab. They developed the project to refurbish and convert the former orthodox church in Shanghai, constructed in 1932 and called St. Nicholas for a new end-use. Long since unused as a church, the building on Gaolan Road had gone through many iterations: offices, factory, warehouse, canteen, housing, then later a club and a restaurant until it fell into total disrepair. 
Enter Yu Ting, founder of Wutopia Lab. The first time he visited the site, he realised its vast potential, hidden under the layers of its eventful history. The architect saw the refurbishment and conversion project as strongly tied to the culture and lifestyle of Shanghai. It meant he could play with the many layers of the architecture, as changeable and open to interpretation as the poetry to which this building is now dedicated. Indeed, the Sinan Poetry Books Store is the largest professional poetry bookstore in Shanghai, with more than 1000 poetry books in several languages on its shelves. 
Being a heritage-listed building, the project required the approval of the Shanghai Historic Building Protection Affairs Center, and the façade could not be altered. After learning that, Wutopia Lab first set out to clean it up, patiently stripping back the layers to bring to light the history of the building from 1932 to 2019. Since they were not able to act on the structure and couldn’t transform the cupola of this religious building, the architects came up with the idea of “a church within a church”. They dropped en enormous steel framework into the church, which acts as both shelving and a feature of the project. Because Yu Ting was sure that this bookstore for poetry needed to be a kind of place of worship in the city of Shanghai with an innovative and independent spirituality
The new structure was completed in only 80 days and presents as a church-like construction in the old church, a sanctuary for modern man, where once it was a sanctuary of worship. The use of steel reinforces the contemporary nature of the project: the bookstore’s partition and support take the form of a steel plate gridded system. This interacts with the original building to form the new inner sanctuary of the poetry chapel, lit - like the old church - by the daylight that spills in through the dome. You can see Catholic-style frescoes on the walls that were painted when the building was used as a restaurant in early 2000. This visual connection between past and present bring together the steel bookstore and the stone church as one and the same thing.
The Sinan Poetry Books Store also has a café, a place where you can enjoy refreshments and share the poetry experience with others. The dominant feature in this area is what used to be the stone wall, in a warm chocolate colour palette, contrasting with the silvery metal of the central shelves. Strips of light help visitors to understand the outline of the original church and the recent addition. 
With this project, Wutopia Lab has created something genuinely poetic. A place that is evocative of certain moods of that magical realism that we can observe in other work by the same studio. What better place to throw yourself into some poetry?

Christiane Bürklein

Design Firm: Wutopia Lab (www.wutopialab.com) (YU Ting, Shengrui PU, Mingshuai LI)
Design team: Qinghe KANG, Xueqin JIANG, Jun CHEN, Jiqing MA, Dali PAN
Location: Shanghai, China
Year: December 2019
Gross Built Area: 388sqm
Photo credit: CreatAR Images
Design consultant: S5 Design Co., Ltd
Restoration design: Shanghai Construction Decoration (Group) Design Co., Ltd.
Structural Consultant: Junfeng YU
Light consultant: Chloe ZHANG
Constructors: Shanghai Interior Decoration Engineering Co., Ltd., BXC Design Construction
Client: Shanghai Century Cloud Culture Development Co., Ltd


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