Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Book Loft

Reading my friend's negative comments on the Book Loft made me want to write something about this unique bookstore. To me, the Book Loft is more than just a bookstore. It stands as a living example of dynamics in architectural space. Firstly, it blurs the boundary between public and private space and reverses the normal condition: a public bookstore in the setting of a private house. Isn’t the reversal of dining room and bathroom in Buñuel's The Phantom of Liberty an extreme case on this subject?!

One of the bookstore’s charms lies in its linear courtyard as the main entry. This serenely beautiful courtyard immediately turns the street scale into a personal scale, brings one’s mind into a peaceful retreat. Further down the path, the display windows on your right side create another type of storefront which is immersed in the domestic atmosphere rather than a commercial street feeling. Bathed in the warm yellow light at night, one can easily have the sense of going home on a cold winter night.

The linear courtyard reminds me of a charming little community garden I once visited in Philly. It is a water garden on the side of an old building, about the same size and shape as the one at the Book Loft. A ‘beer barrel’ at the corner collects stormwater from the neighboring roof which is reused for irrigating the garden. Three correlative murals depicting water cycles were done by the kids in the community.

Secondly, the Book Loft stands as a proof that getting lost is not necessarily a negative quality of architecture. This old Victorian house is a labyrinth that consists of 32 rooms of books, endless passageways, and staircases leading into new dimensions. However, this place is meant for wondering, exploring and getting lost only if you enjoy such a slow-paced and adventurous shopping experience. Associated with the quest for knowledge, isn’t the labyrinth a perfect metaphor for a bookstore? I still get lost after being there quite a few times, and each time I discover some new territories in both the architectural space and book collection. It is a similar experience every time I revisit a favorite film, picking up some unnoticed details.

Unlike box-shaped chain bookstores where one is always under surveillance, this maze-like space offers a perfect hiding place among the book jungles, which is rarely found in contemporary architecture. The Book Loft is probably a place Mr. Hulot would love! Anyone who is familiar with Tati’s Playtime knows that a large minimal glass cube is no more directional than the Book Loft, needless to say the lack of spatial interest or human attachment people can get out of.

I agree with my friend that their book selection needs to be improved. It would be great to include rare books and used books. Amazon is definitely the best place if you only care about selection and price. Nevertheless I still find Book Loft a hidden gem in this suburban city especially considering the fun experience it provides. Looking forward to my next half-day retreat, Hmmm…


Cissy said...

i loved getting lost in the book loft, it's no fun if you didn't get lost. like life! :D yes, the book selection can be better also...we have one here called the strand, very similar but even bigger. it's near union square. i like it a lot...but very dangerous for the wallet. ;P

XENIA said...

'it's no fun if you didn't get lost. like life!' -Exactly!

Yeah, the famous Strand! Next time I go to NYC, let's go together!!