Photos and text by Roger Tagholm
People have been falling over themselves to describe the new Foyles. From ‘temple of books’ and ‘the industry’s Versailles,’ to ‘Xanadu’ and ‘stately pleasure dome,’ the new store in the building that was formerly home to Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design – where the Sex Pistols played in what is now the children’s department incidentally – has rightly inspired everyone it seems.
Here’s a little photographic tour:
The ‘market square’
This is the store’s central meeting area, beneath the atrium and from which you can see almost all of the store’s six levels. People naturally seem to congregate here. It doesn’t matter if some of them are on their phones: the first rule of retail is to get them through the door. People like to hang out here, reading books on the benches or chatting. The square also gives tempting views further into the shop. Architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands have done a good job of taking out walls and opening up space. The eye is led in – there is a sense of rooms beyond, an invitation to discover.
The first floor fiction department sweeps around the gallery that overlooks the children’s department. The latter also doubles as an events space too.
The atrium and ‘Escher stairs’
The light-filled atrium allows almost all of the store’s seven levels to be seen. Someone has likened the parallel staircases on either side of the atrium to the famous Escher drawing of people endlessly descending, endlessly climbing four staircases. Fortunately, at Foyles, the stairs allow more browsing since you pass books like advertising panels on the Underground’s escalators. Soon you arrive at …
Who needs QWERTY? It’s a clever idea to subvert that familiar keyboard, and those giant round keys are cool.
Bordering the atrium on every level are lecterns, offering flexible display space and encouraging browsers to pause and explore. It’s a simple innovation that works well.
The ‘Yo Sushi’ effect
Some explanation is required here. When the store was hosting its workshops along with The Bookseller, gathering people’s thoughts on what ‘the bookshop of the future’ should look like, someone suggested a Yo Sushi-style conveyor belt of books. “This was an idea I could nor resist,” says Retail Operations Director Sion Hamilton. “But how to do it? We could not have a conveyor belt in the shop.
“Suddenly, as I went up the escalator at Bond Street Station, the thought struck me – what if we invert the idea? So, working with the architects, we devised a slot cut into the side of the atrium, and lecterns that sit on the landing of each floor, so that you pass all these lovely books as come up and down the stairs.”
Here’s one in the Music Department – a ‘sawn-off’ piano. This young customer seems to be enjoying himself.
It’s good to see that some of the oddities from the old Medical Department have made it across. And you can still buy surgical instruments here too.
Revolution or bust!
These busts of Lenin and Che Guevara & co greet visitors to the History Department – £23 ($38) each if you’re interested.
Honorable Literary Mentions
Foyles has been mentioned in so many writers’ works, the store has made this a themed table – even if some of the quotes, like this one from Susan Sontag, are not that flattering.
And a final statement of purpose…
This is on the ground-floor windows. Can’t argue with that.