For many, reading a book is similar to a religious experience. The pleasure that bookworms get when they are perusing the works of their favorite authors is comparable to the ecstasy experienced by saints when they are filled by the holy spirit. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration but you get the point. Because books are considered holy by some, it’s just natural to see old churches being converted to bookstores.
Sinan Books Poetry Store
Located in Shanghai, China, Sinan Books Poetry Store is housed in a building that used to be a church, the St Nicholas Orthodox Church to be exact. Now, it’s home to more than a thousand books that are written in different languages. What used to be a religious shrine now serves as a temple to the written word. The transformation was executed by an architectural company known as Wutopia Lab. The 388 square-meter bookstore was given the name “Church in Church,” an allusion to the sacredness of books and the divine nature of poetry. The building itself is a work of art with its high arches and the fresco artwork from the old church.
The books themselves are housed in plain stainless steel shelves. It’s to convey the message that the books are the main attraction here. Well inside at least. Because for certain, not everyone who visits the place is interested in poetry or in books. The preservation of the old church is mainly because of a Chinese law that mandates the protection of historical sites. When you enter the bookstore, what you’ll immediately notice is how spacious and bright it is inside. It is a perfect place to spend a whole day reading. And if you get hungry from all that browsing, there are cafes located on both sides of the building.
Waanders in de Broeren
Waanders in de Broeren is a relatively new bookstore located in Zwolle, The Netherlands. The bookstore is housed in a 15th-century Dominican church converted by a Dutch architectural firm called BK Architecten. And the company did a very good job. Apart from the bookstore, a 700 square meter shopping space is also added. What’s remarkable about the building is that all of the elements of the original church remained. These include the pipe organ, stained glass windows, the expansive arches, and even the paintings on the ceiling. And the additional parts were designed in such a way that if they are removed, the church will still remain and can be restored to its former glory.
Even the colors of the paint used were deliberately chosen to mimic the colors of the original church. Indeed, this bookstore is a masterclass in preservation. It shows that the old and the new can coexist and that it’s not necessary to destroy something in order to upgrade it or make it new again. Everything that the architectural firm has done to the building pay reverence to the original structure. What they did is the ultimate sign of respect that modern architecture can give to an old builder.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid
The building that currently houses El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore in Buenos Aires is originally not a church but a performing arts theater. But it still deserves a place on this list because the building is as beautiful as any old cathedral can be. And one can also argue that love for the arts can be compared to any religion. Through the years, the structure has undergone several changes and renovations. Today, it’s a 21,000 square foot bookshop, probably the grandest and most beautiful in Buenos Aires. The architects did an excellent job of keeping the old elements of the original building, including the frescoes in the ceiling and the details on the handrails and walls.
Even the original stage and the balcony seats of the original theater remains. They now serve as reading areas for those who want to browse the books before buying them. The building was almost demolished in 2000. It’s fortunate that before the demolition took place, the building was leased to Grupo Ilhsa who decided to keep the original structure and build a bookstore out of it. It is estimated that more than a million people visit the bookstore every year.