Dissolving Boundaries

Gifu Media Cosmo, Japan | Toyo Ito

The library has evolved far beyond the static storage of books, just as knowledge dissimilation has progressed from a privileged activity to a public act with multiple dimensions. Comparing to other cultural facilities, the library is regarded as a more important social infrastructure as it is free and open the community. This evolution in function and role will require spatial response accordingly, perhaps it could be translated into the question of “how cultural architecture can be more open?

The Gifu Media Cosmo, designed by Toyo Ito for the city of Gifu, is a hybrid cultural+community place that has taken a traditional library brief and turned it around in response to contemporary need. It challenges the static function of a library and expanded in multiple ways across boundaries, starting from a new name/ new identity instead of naming the project “Gifu municipal library”. In recent years, many municipal library in Japan, including another Ito project the Sendai Mediateque, began to explore the contemporary role of a library: how is it impacted by the changing mode of knowledge transmission (through media)? and what is the social role of a library in the community? The project’s Japanese name “minna no mori” means “everyone’s forest”, position it as a community place, with three components of the municipal library, the community centre and a “multicultural plaza”. This community vision is translated into openness and transparency in its architecture, where space is not defined with solid boundary but loosely organised as zones (cosmos) that allows flow, and therefore interaction and communication.

The box-shape building sits on the site in a soft natural setting, where the walls are not to be conceived as porche but the un-distracting transparent material allows it to blend in with surrounding landscape. The straight line (walls) become so light that it is merely an enclosure but not to confine or even define space. Besides the transparency glass façade, the overlapping figures on plan also enhance the reading of transparency as Colin Rowe would describe a cubist painting.

The touch of very subtle landform embraces organic flow in multiple instances, breaking from the rigid edge and further dissolve the boundary between floor and wall (horizontal and vertical surface). Similar language in the outdoor garden to the indoor children’s playground are applied, giving a sensual difference through the gentle curves in three dimension, extending all the way to the roof form that reads the undulating flow.

The interiors of the building is conceived as an extension of outdoor. At the circle plaza it crosses inside/outside in a few sunken steps, separated by sliding glass doors that can open up fully. Movements flow freely in the space, and zones are defined by various soft measures but not solid walls. No longer is the solid thick wall that represents institutional authority, but openness and transparency that foster gathering and sense of community.

On the second floor where the library function is located, circular zoning implies all-ways flow instead of directional movements dictated by straight lines. The zones are defined but not dictated through subtle floor material and suggested by furniture arrangement and the grand lampshades over each zone. With bookshelves at lower height the whole second floor is opened up as one continuous space and extending into the outdoor terraces following the figure. Only a few items that requires functional enclosure such as meeting rooms is designed as smaller object that is placed within the space, large glass wall with curtains for privacy as needed. Even the closed-book stack, the most solid element of the library, is encased in a transparent box, while it is not immediately accessible it is visually transparent and allowing continuous view through.

From a figure-ground of well-defined solid rooms to ambiguous boundary allowing flow space, activities began to overlap and interact through serendipitous occasions. It is through the suggestion of zones but not physical barrier that gathers people, as the boundary is blurred it became the border zone where most intensive interaction could happen.

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