The web is awash with articles claiming to be the “most impressive” or the “top ten (something) of all time”, and any claim of this nature is clearly subjective, especially with the sheer amount of information to draw upon. But it’s just possible these bookshops could be among the most visually stunning in the world. Check them out, from Maastricht to Porto and Buenos Aires.
Selexyz Dominicanen, Maastricht
Often all it takes is a little imagination to create something truly incredible. And anyone who sees an abandoned church as nothing but a deconsecrated pile of bricks and mortar (or stone, in this case) should look no further than the Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht. This 800-year-old Dominican church has had a chequered history since closing its doors to the congregation – derelict and overgrown at one point and used for bicycle storage more recently.
Now, thanks to a radical overhaul by Dutch architects Merkx + Girod, it could well be the most stunning bookshop in the world. The architects have been mindful that the main feature of the bookshop is the church itself. As a result, the minimalist interior adds a splash of twenty first century colour to this very medieval canvas, doing justice to both in the process. As the Guardian newspaper says: “A bookshop made in heaven”.
El Ateneo in Buenos Aires
Once upon a time, cities were full of theatres, although many were converted into pictures houses and ultimately found themselves on the wrong end of a wrecking ball when television became a household standard. Not so the El Ateneo, a downtown Buenos Aires bookshop converted from an old theatre.
This imaginative reuse sees every corner of the theatre auditorium utilized, from the stalls to the circle to the balcony. The theatre boxes are now private reading rooms, while the stage serves as a cafe area complete with the original crimson curtains. The El Ateneo is a fine example of how an important piece of history can be preserved and repackaged for a contemporary audience.
Livraria Lello, Porto
The Livraria Lello in Porto is smaller than the other two examples in this article but no less impressive. And unlike El Ateneo and Selexyz Dominicanen, it is a purpose built bookshop, a stunning contrast of dark wood and exuberant paintwork – take the stairs, for example.
Livraria Lello has sold books since it was originally established in 1881. Boasting stained glass windows, wood panels and columns worthy of the finest craftmen, Livraria Lello, like its companions above, is ideal for book enthusiasts and architecture fanatics alike.
And it will come as no surprise to some that the impressive steps shown above have been described as a “stairway to heaven”. (This article was inspired by “The World’s Top Ten Bookshops”, courtesy of the Guardian newspaper.)
Explore more interesting buildings in Silent Cinema: 8 Abandoned Theatres and Movie Palaces