Japan: Musashino Art Library
Buildings with Meaning
Musashino Art Library is one of those buildings where container and contents live in a tight communion, where there is a strong bond between the design and its ultimate purpose. Those are buildings with meaning, they are not only show pieces, caprices of artistic architectural minds only, but they have been given a soul through their purpose.
Not to say this particular container wouldn't be impressive even if empty and purposeless, but aesthetics alone aren't what make Musashino Art Library so special, it's the building's purpose and its precise design to that effect that gives it a soul.
Buildings like Musashino Art Library are aesthetical masterpieces, but what nears them to perfection in my opinion is that they were conceived for a purpose, and its design, structure, and shape all go to facilitate and enable what they were conceived for.
Musashino Art Library, Design with Purpose
The library is a project from 2010, commissioned to Sou Fujimoto by the Musashino Art University, MAU, a prestigious institution in the art world in Japan. Not many outside architecture circles are familiar with Sou Fujimoto's name, unlike some of the world renowned figures of architecture, this artist seems to work for his projects and his clients, rather than for his name.
The whole building is designed for the purpose of hosting books and reading books and studying and focusing on one's tasks. There is silence and there is light, there is space, not a single crowded corner all over the building. Matter of fact, there are no corners in the Musashino Art Library, it's all visible to the naked eye, a rather a practical metaphor to knowledge being there and up for grabs. All is visible and accessible, if you care to look for it.
All the photos from the outside are mine, but the interior images are all credited to architecture review websites or magazines. We were asked not to take photos inside, and I understand only authorized photographers are sometimes allowed to photography the interior.
As any other university library in the world, it only allows students or studious folks in. This is not a tourist attraction –although it would well deserve to be, so if one is granted access one must behave as if they were in a library, not at the top of the Empire State Building. In other words: Silence, respect for those working, and no photos, thank you very much.
Access to the library is restricted via turnpikes that will secure access to students, teachers or any authorized patrons who own a library badge. Obviously we had none of that. What we had, however, is email correspondence with the library manager, who agreed to receive us on a specific date and time.
Upon gaining access, we were given 30 minutes to visit the upper level, and were asked not to take photos.
How to get there
This is not exactly off the beaten track, rather it's somewhere were no tourist would ever find themselves unless they specifically plan to go.
Incidentally, this is part of the charm, the fact that once you get there you won't find Louvre like hordes of tourists. As a matter of fact, you won't be granted access unless you have an appointment
Musashino Art University sits about 30 kilometers off Tokyo, that's roughly 20 miles, in the college district of Kokobunji city. If you're staying in Tokyo, the easiest way to get there is take the JR Chuo Line from Shinjuku to Kokobunji station, and then take the Seibu bus line from the train station to the University.
The access map in the MAU website is clear enough, but if you want to find timetable details, and cost for the trip, you can access Hyperdia, which, incidentally, will explain how to get from just about anywhere to anywhere else in Japan.
From the outside and at ground level, one can only experience the 'cover of the book', in a manner of speaking. And what a cover it is. The outer wall is glass, revealing an inner wall composed of timber shelves. Shelves as those which hold books. The outer walls of the library do tell it is a library. This is the first sign that the building has meaning.
The structure is a spiral in sequence from the outer wall and that continues in the interior, a sort of snail figure that turns on itself and generates a fully open space. There are hardly any walls, just those that physically generate the spiral, and hold the structure together. The spiral like structure, which is in fact the actual shelves of the library, distributes the space in 9 sections for books, and creates open spaces where the study areas and common facilities are spread.
On turning around in circle, one can see the huge section numbers, creative and tasteful, even cool and chic. Section Seven is denoted by over a hundred little sevens which compose a seven shape. All section numbers have their special traits, and all are easily spotted regardless of where you are, so it's easy to identify where the section you may need is located.
The study spaces, all providing charge stations, are spread in little groups all across the upper floor. There isn't a specific reading or study section, just clusters of tables and little workstations here and there, whereby eliminating any possibility of a crowd in any given space. The front area of the upper floor hosts a series of walkways that hang over the ground floor front desk, and which accommodate around 50 workstations, all equipped with 23 inch Apple monitors.
The walkways are directly in front of the huge glass wall which provides natural light to the work areas, and for the library at large, shedding light on the upper floor and the ground level front desk.
Another very special trait are the inner walls in the library. Replicating exactly the timber shelve look of the outer wall, these double up as load bearing walls and as library shelves. They are, in fact, the actual shelves for the books. At the moment, only about a third of the shelves are used. The rest will be filled in as new books are acquired in the next 30 or 40 years; in the meantime, they simply provide visual enjoyment.
The space in the library where this particular design, structure as a shelf, can be best appreciated is the stairway from the ground floor up. This 'stairway' triples up as 'way up', sitting room, and shelves for books. Special and marvelous to the educated or uneducated eye.
Obviously, in this XXI Century library, the book check-out stations are fashionable and ultramodern. It all sits well within those glass walls and timber paneled shelves. Mind you, it's all about books, silence and room to concentrate, with a touch of modernity.
MAU Library Newsletter
The Designer's Chairs
Apparently a pride and joy at the library, as if they needed any more pride, or joy for that matter, is a collection of design chairs. They do say they love designer chairs in their newsletter, and it's no joke.
One can't believe the amount of design chairs spread around, strategically located so that they are both easy to visually appreciate, and convenient to actually sit on without getting in the way of others. We're talking about world renowned pieces by world renowned designers.
It's an appealing and special trait, to have an Egg Model by Arne Jacobsen, dated 1958, occupied by a gangly art student all curved up in a, well, egg shape, reading simultaneously from a book and from her smart phone.
It's also quite special to see a cute, perky kid reading a book all snuggled into a Ball Chair design by Eero Aarnio, dated 1963.
And what of the stoic Hillhouse Chair by Mackintosh dated 1902? No one was sitting there. Perhaps this extremely stylish chair at a visual level is not as conductive to sit on as the previous listed? At any rate, it was ever vigilant, keeping watch over the space as a king in his throne.