With the proliferation of digital data, the private laptop has been taking a toll on the public library. But two recent buildings by the Pritzker Prize laureate Toyo Ito suggest that the traditional typology is not heading for the archives anytime soon. “In terms of public facilities, the library is actually quite a contemporary building type,” says Ito. The Tokyo-based architect’s library at the National Taiwan University College of Social Sciences in Taipei and the Gifu Media Cosmos in Gifu City, Japan, are as much communal gathering places, where people interact face-to-face, as places to gather information.
Celebrating the bound book, these two libraries refuse to kowtow to the ever-changing landscape of electronic media. In both buildings, visitors may come with particular quests in mind, but the flowing space, easy shelf access, and inviting furniture entice them to stay longer, search deeper, and mix with others. Yet the architectural expression of both buildings is forward-looking, even futuristic. Their defining elements—sensuously funnel-shaped columns in Taipei and softly patterned suspended domes in Gifu—effortlessly mask underlying geometric complexity. That’s not surprising from the designer of the Sendai Mediatheque, the multistory media center in Japan that blended structure and design in an entirely unprecedented way. Opened in 2000, that building features irregularly shaped, eccentrically placed hollow columns that serve as structural elements, but also connect floor levels vertically and channel circulation horizontally.