Thursday, November 17, 2011


Photo courtesy of Iwa Baan

The first time I saw a photograph of the Tama University of Art library, a recent work by Toyo Ito in the outskirts of Tokyo, I was surprised by the seemingly eclectic proposal. It was a series of arches of various sizes, reminiscent of the Romanesque buildings of the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa , rather than one of the innovative works that made this Japanese architect so famous. What are these arches doing in Japan?

However, a very different experience is perceived during the visit, where it is possible to see that the proposal is actually much richer and more complex than it appears externally, and that there is no historicist reminiscent of European architecture, but the tectonic representation of a cave.

Indeed, Ito wanted to use this set of arches to symbolize a cavernous space, where stalactites make an order not associated with any apparent pattern or geometry. His initial proposal was to create the library buried underground, to actually have an experience more like a cave. The building would just show a single level, which would have been a meeting place for students and an open exhibition area.
"The first impetus for our design was to question how an institution as specialised as a library could provide an open commonality for all. Our first idea was for a wide open gallery on the ground level that would serve as an active thoroughfare for people crossing the campus, even without intending to go to the library. "

An exhibition of works by students of architecture.

However, the limited university budget problems prevented the completion of a costly underground excavation. Ito then reversed his proposal: he took his library, originally in the ground, and placed it on the second floor.

To stress this idea, the architect opted for a simple, exposed concrete structure, with glass windows and metal frames.

The arches, whose widths vary from 16 to 1.8 m, expose the building so frankly that at some points it was decided to use curtains. The facade of the building is curved in two of its sides, keeping a right angle at the corner with less traffic. The glass panels are mounted on aluminum frames and were previously cut and folded 4 mm to maintain the curvature of the facade.

But while the façade is striking, definitely the interior spatial treatment is the greatest achievement of the building, where arches occur in an apparent chaos, simulating stalactites and creating multiple and varied effects of perspective. However, this apparent arbitrariness corresponds to a structural frame formed by the junction of curved arches.

Images courtesy of Toyo Ito Architects

To construct this grid a steel structure covered with concrete was built, creating 20 cm plates that intersect each other. Note that the intersection of the arcs forms a cross, which aside of stressing the directionality of the geometry, has an anti-seismic effect on the structure.

On the first floor, which follows the relief of the street to integrate itself to the context, is the area of ​​public exhibition, with art galleries. In a more private area, is the reading and resting area for the students, wherein the furniture designed by Kazuko Fujie stands out.

I tried to sit in the ball-seats... they are not so very comfortable, I would prefer something with a back, especially if I'll be reading or working on the computer for a while. Also, I do not know why I got the impression they were going to start chasing me like critters .

What a good nap! Is there any better proof that this furniture works?

The second level is the library itself, where the shelves of books have been designed according to a modulated spatial grid.

Bookshelves. Photography is prohibited on the second level, so these pics were taken secretly. Photos courtesy of Iwa Baan

Another notable factor is the use of light, since a visitor goes from the effect of semi darkness of the "cave" in the first level and passes to the brightness of the library. I suspect that could be a metaphor for the process of learning and enlightenment, a common concept in Buddhism .

Probably the fact of putting the library on the second floor, with ample natural light and magnificent views, was eventually better than accommodating it on a basement, as was the original idea of ​​the architect, which would have required costly artificial lighting for reading.

This frank relationship between exterior and interior evokes a similar gesture of Ito in his Sendai Mediatheque, although in that case the spatial relationship between the different levels is much more integrated than in the case of the Tama University library. The use of glass in the reading tables allows external reflection, reinforcing the idea that the building is immersed in the surrounding vegetation.

Photo courtesy of Iwa Baan

"The new library is a place where everyone can discover their style of “interacting” with books and film media as if they were walking through a forest or in a cave; a new place of arcade-like spaces where soft mutual relations form by simply passing through; a focal centre where a new sense of creativity begins to spread throughout the art university’s campus."
Photo courtesy of Iwa Baan

Despite the formal differences, the Tama University Library, completed in 2007, shared with the Sendai Mediatheque innovative concepts such as the structural design and the transparency of their activities. The curved shape of the plant's proposal reminds me of Herzog & De Meuron for Laban Dance Centre. Talking sbout comparisons, who better than architect Martin Lisnovsky, a master of the Architectural Totally looks like, who made ​​a visual parallel between this building and the Mosque of Cordoba , in his always interesting architecture + history .

Rear view of the ladder



  1. Dear Carlos,
    Gret article. Could you please tell me how can I get to This building from Tokyo? I'll be visiting for few days but I have no good instructions on how to get there. Thank you in advance


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