Best known for his cavernous Fangsuo Chengdu bookstore, Taiwanese designer Chu Chih Kang talks to Christie Lee about memory, style and the value of bookstores.
Refusing to conform to a particular style or artistic language, Chu Chih Kang has left his mark on a range of projects, including fashion boutiques, nightclubs and bookstores in Asia. One of his most notable projects, Fangsuo Chengdu was inspired by the idea of the Sutra Depository, and is at once a convivial and reverent place for all to relax and read.
The Taiwanese-born Shenzhen-based designer studied traditional Chinese painting at National Taiwan University of Arts, but deciding that it was “a tad too abstract” for him, nabbed a masters degree in product design and architecture at Shih Chien University in 2007. Established in 2010, Chu Chih Kang Space Design has offices in Shenzhen and Kaohsiung.
You studied Chinese painting, product design and architecture. How has such a mixed educational background influenced your design approach?
Traditional Chinese painting is very much concerned with space, and how that is used in tandem with minimal lines to convey perspective and proportion. Traditional Chinese paintings are also associated with memory and history, be it relating to one’s ancestry or reflections upon the universe. That’s why Chinese art is often so evocative. I think memory is a thread that runs through all my design projects.
Are these memories that you speak of culture-specific?
I wouldn’t equate memory with culture. It could simply be a childhood memory. For example, the wooden stool that I designed sprung out of a personal childhood memory.
Have you always wanted to become a designer?
I wanted to become an artist, but it came to the point where I couldn’t find any meaning to anything I did. There were no clear aims nor answers. It was very tiring. I like design because it is about problem solving.
You have designed two bookstores for Fangsuo, in Chengdu and Chongqing. In an era of e-commerce, what is the value of a brick-or-mortar bookstore?
Rather than selling books, bookstores are about selling an experience or a certain lifestyle.
How did you apply this idea to the design of Fangsuo Chengdu?
We built a wide winding staircase for book lovers to sit down and read. It’s quite an open-plan layout, where customers on the second level can peer down at those on the first floor. Reading will always be an individualistic experience, but this layout makes you feel that you’re in the company of other book lovers. There were originally quite a few gathering pods, but those had to be done away with as there were more visitors than we expected.
Fangsuo Chengdu made use of a lot of natural textures. Are you inclined towards using materials such as wood?
No. We only used rawer materials for Fangsuo Chengdu as it was meant to conjure a cave-like environment. A good designer must let go of his or her own ego; we are like mirrors, for clients to bounce off their ideas.
What are you working on right now?
We’re doing interior design for Tao Zhu Yin Yuan, a luxury property development in Taipei, a bookstore in Dongguan, a hotel in Chengdu and offices in Shenzhen. It’s an exciting time.
Chu Chih Kang Space Design