Friday, October 17, 2014

Speaking volumes

Not long after the Second World War somewhere in Japan there was a discussion about where to build a new art school. The site, it was agreed, needed to stimulate creativity and relax the fevered mind and so they chose a beautiful wooded hill about an hour out of Tokyo. In the seventies they started to build a small city’s worth of serious concrete buildings and that killed the stimulation-slash-calm mind dream dead in the water. Then in the new millennium, perhaps as some sort of apology or maybe even in error, at the very edge of the campus the university authorities asked Toyo Ito to build them a library and what they got is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

On the outside the large arched windows reflect the calm of a sloping garden of trees, grass, a gravel path and solid wooden benches. Inside is a generous unencumbered space that feels like a luxury in Japan. The arches continue rhythmically but not symmetrically throughout the building in a complex system that feels like an underground cavern that is at the same time full of light. The books of this library are protected in a wonderfully simple way through sweeping white curtains that add a sense of mystery on a bright day. In one large sun-drenched corner a series of large bed-like lounging platforms were dotted with students who were doing what any self-respecting art student would do when caught by the warm sun in a library - sleeping.