Onnisciente Bookstore

  • Project 4 in my Design V studio was comprised of a bookstore and a cafe in a four-story building. Since I was studying abroad in Rome, Italy at the time, we were provided with a building located in a neighborhood called San Lorenzo between Termini Train Station and Sapienza University of Rome.
    We began the project by creating a client whose wishes we would try to accomodate. I decided that my client would be a retired university professor of classic literature who wanted a place for people - mainly college-age and younger - to be able to come and do research and homework as well as buy books. Since the invention of the Nook and Kindle as well as dependence on the internet has rendered the purpose of bookstores almost useless, my client wanted to make reading and researching "cool" again. As such, he wanted the design to be modern, but incorporate a university library environment.
    When I came up with this client, the first thing that came to mind was a few of my favorite books that I read in literature classes in high school, such as The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (which has recently reemerged on the popular scene with the release of a film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio), 1984 by George Orwell, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, to name a few. When I analyzed the plots of these novels, I realized that all of them incorporated the motif of sight, however obvious or subtle. The most notable examples are in Gatsby, where a billboard depicting a large set of eyes symbolizes the idea that "God watches everything," in Lord of the Flies when the confiscation of Piggy's glasses causes a civil war on the island, and in 1984 where one of the recurring slogans in the dystopian universe is "Big Brother is watching you." This led to my using the motif of sight in my own design by incorporating a skylight and an open area leading down from it, symbolizing the idea of someone from the outside being able to look in and see everything that is going on inside, like an omniscient narrator of a book. This is also where the title of my bookstore came from: "onnisciente" is the Italian word for "all-knowing."
    I decided that my skylight and floor openings would be circular based simply on the round structure of the eye. From there, the idea of a monumental spiral staircase and a skylight to mimic it came about. (The skylight is made of concrete with a glass panel in the center and small glass panels along the outermost ring. It is influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum, the Danish Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Design Expo, the Spiral Ominaret in Samarra, Iraq, and a conch shell, and designed to give a bit of architectural significance to the design and a new take on the traditional Roman dome.) Originally I wanted a simple stair, but I struggled with what the railing was going to be, since it would be visible by the entire store and thus was probably one of the most important parts of the design. I then found an image of a wooden stair with a solid white plaster railing with bookshelves on the outer wall, as seen on my Inspiration board. It was simple, modern, solid and monumental - just what I wanted. This way, I could keep this and the walls a modern white and focus any color I wanted on the individual floors.
    The ground floor is all wood and white, to keep it simple so that the focus is on the books. The sales desk, at the center of the floor and directly below the skylight, doubles as a reception desk in accordance with my client's wish for the design to have a library feel. All of the bookshelves on every floor are custom round structures with shelves on both sides, positioned in such a way that they appeared to be radiating from the center.
    The next floor is where I put my Event Space and Cafe. Since they are the most important parts of the store besides the books, I put them there so that they had their own floor and were separate from the reception/sales desk and main book area but were still easily accessible from the main entrance and did not take much time to reach. Also, it makes the customer interested in what else the store has to offer besides books. If there is an event, such as a lecture or a reading or an interview, the audience can enjoy refreshments in the cafe and then make their way around the staircase to the event area. I put a wall around the staircase and doors leading into the event space to make it a bit more private, so the rest of the store is not bothered by sound carried from whatever is going on. The cafe area is a more open public space and the staircase is completely open to it. The walls in the cafe are upholsted with the "Flame" wall covering and there is a dropped ceiling made of the "Champagne" 3-Form with recessed lights behind it to give the place a warm feeling in contrast with the stark whiteness of the ground floor. I put a green carpet in the Event Space to make it more comfortable and to decrease the noise level during events, such as scraping chairs and footsteps, and also because I liked the color against the light wood chairs that I had chosen.
    Since the ceiling height on the first floor was so high - about 24 feet - I realized that I could easily add another floor to fill in the space. It started as a half-floor, only going to the staircase, but then I decided to create a balcony for additional seating and a different view for the Event Space. As such, one third of the floor is blocked off by doors and a wall, but is accessible by the central staircase, and the rest of the floor is comprised of a private lounge with tables for homework and comfortable chairs around the perimeter. In the balcony area, the comfortable chairs are also around the perimeter but some overlook the Event Space, held back by a bannister made of Hydrangea Thatch 3-Form. Additionally, the solid wall surrounding the staircase on this level includes custom built-in bookshelves, about three feet wide and spaced about a foot apart, alternating interior and exterior sides. The interior shelves correspond with the rise of the stairs. These shelves hold periodicals and magazines and other forms of light reading to browse while listening to whatever is going on in the Event Space or while taking a break from homework in the Private Lounge.
    The next floor is comprised of more bookshelves, two storage areas, a secondary sales kiosk, and a technology center. In a college library there is usually an area for computers and a technology help desk, so I put those on this floor. These computers will also include a catalog to help locate books in the store.
    On the last floor, there is a small staff lounge for the small number of staff in the store (people working the sales desks, people working the Technology Help Desk, and people on the floor), an ADA restroom, more bookshelves and a custom work desk for more research and homework space. This floor and the last floor are covered in the "Agenda" carpet to enhance the library feel.
    In addition to the central main staircase, there is a fire stair and two elevators in the annex area on the west side of the building, accessible from each floor.
  • The individual plans blown up:
  • The renderings blown up:
  • View of the balcony and performance space
  • View of the cafe
  • View of the Technology Help Desk
  • The floor plans rendered with material and furniture selections, blown up: