Tama Art University Library

Tama Art University Library, Tokyo - Japan, Toyo Ito
Construction year: 2007
Address: 2-1723 Yarimizu, Hachioji 192-0394 | TOKYO | Japan | Visit Website
Latitude/Longitude: 35.6113, 139.349

Seeing the arches lining the face of Toyo Ito’s Tama Art University Library may remind someone of classical and classically-influenced architecture–the Palazzo Rucellai, for instance, or any of H.H. Richardson’s designs. However, one quickly recognizes that Ito has used this ancient staple in a very modern way. The small supports allow him to line the walls with glass, giving the floor and ceiling slabs the appearance of floating over the open spaces of the library.

The underground cave

Ito’s inspiration, however, was not the arched architecture of the past. It was instead the geologic cave, which he felt was a superb natural example of how to delineate spaces without using repetitive grids of columns and walls.To keep the natural theme, Ito varied the sizes of the arches; in fact, no arch is exactly the same. The supports for the arches act like stalactites, reaching down and ever-so-lightly embracing the floor line below. Unfortunately (at least for Ito), his idea was not fully realized. He envisioned a first floor gallery, with private floors underneath. Due to site constraints, though, the library had to be built up instead of down.

Framing the arches

The arches, ranging from 9 feet to 49 feet in width, are formed along intersecting arcs, with the columns being at intersection points.They are spaced evenly enough to provide adequate structural integrity. The sharp orthogonal lines-such as in the basement and for two exterior walls-were, much to Ito’s chagrin, necessary due to budgetary constraints.

So thin and light

The columns supporting these arches are very thin. The arches are comprised of steel plates anywhere between 0.4 and 0.6 inches thick, covered in concrete. While the standard is 12 inches, Ito and structural engineer Mutsuro Sasaki were able to design the walls at just 8 inches in depth, while still providing enough support for the large loads above.

Anchored to the ground

While flanged steel plates could be used near the tops of arches, their bases required something unique to support the arches and fit their cross shape. Thus, Ito and Sasaki created cross-shaped steel slabs that ranged from 1 to 2 inches thick, which support the lower three feet of each arch. To counteract Japan’s seismic activity-which could easily rupture these weak column supports-rubber isolators were installed. A slip isolation was also used to further prevent against possible earthquake damage.

Bringing outdoors indoors

Ito wanted to exploit the natural environment outside, focusing the building on the beauty of the outdoors instead of trying to create beauty indoors. Thus, the outer walls are lined with windows to allow large views towards the exterior. The inner hearth of the library is left open so one can see these windows. Further, glass furniture reflects the trees and sky outside. The first floor slopes down from north to south to mimic the site conditions and assist in loosening the building’s footprint on the ground.Therefore, it truly does seem as if the building is floating above the site.

Curving, arched windows

The windows are all obscure sizes and shapes due to the archways, and all obviously vary in exact dimension. Further,the windows on the south and west elevations are curved. And to fit Ito’s specification that they be flush with the outer walls, each window had to be divided by thin steel mullions and aluminum sashes. The panes were then cut by one company, shipped to another to be bent a mere sixteen-hundredths of an inch, and sent to the site.

Spacial planning

Gallery space is mainly on the first floor, with books and materials on the second. A cafeteria on the first floor allows a central meeting space for students and professors, and-being on the southwest corner near the bus stop-allows perfect shelter for those tired of waiting outside.The first floor also features a laboratory and office space, as well as the library’s magazine and multimedia section. Further, a “temporary theater,” connected to the multimedia section, provides an area for students to listen to music, watch movies, etc.

Above and below

The library’s second floor provides the main bookstacks and reading areas. Unlike the first floor, this floor is completely level to account for “book trolleys” that transport the books.Closed stacks, making up the eastern side of the second floor as well as the mezzanine above, bring the library’s total collection to over ten thousand books.The second floor also contains office and copying space. The small basement, meanwhile, provides library storage and an area for mechanical equipment and machinery, etc.

Furniture fit for the design

Ito and furniture designer Fujie Kazuko Atelier aimed to keep all furniture low, so as to keep views outside from even the innermost areas of the building. Differing spaces are separated by these low shelves, and by “lacy steel” screens.Seating ranges from large, blonde birch tables, to unique matted felt and upholstered chairs, to the built-in study benches along the exterior windows. All work to give a variety of seating arrangements and situations, while complementing the building’s light, open feel.

In the words of Ito…

“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.”

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