“Bean bag chairs are impossible in Japanese school libraries,” says architect Kenichi Nakamura. But the dual language Nishimachi International School is no ordinary learning environment and its homey Yashiro Media Center is no ordinary book receptacle.
A collaboration by TOMURO Atelier and Kenichi Nakamura and Associates, the 4,223-square-foot facility–Japan’s only bilingual elementary school library–marks a corner of the school’s 38,130-square-foot, central Tokyo campus. It faces low-scale apartment buildings and single-family homes, including the stucco clad residence designed in 1921 by the U.S. architect William Merrell Vories for the school founder’s family. The heart of the campus, the historic house contains primarily administrative offices, but its first floor held the library until it moved next door where the family horse carriage was once garaged.
In deference to the founder’s house and the site’s rigid code restrictions, the building is residential in scale and character. Entered via a narrow outdoor passage, the library contains three levels. While the circulation and reference areas fill the ground floor, reading areas for older and younger students are above and below. Two glass-enclosed, vertical elements–the elevator shaft and the grand stair–bookend the narrow building and allow soft daylight to filter down to its lowest level.
The product of a 20-foot long steel cantilever, the transparent stair enclosure abuts the street on two sides and engages passersby with glimpses of activity inside. An oversized, mullioned window upstairs serves as an emergency exit while framing views of outdoor spaces. Elsewhere wall openings were minimized to maximize interior shelf space. Silvery aluminum panels cover the exterior, imbuing it with a fresh, contemporary look while nodding politely to the grey colored masonry next door.
Truly a home for books, the Media Center, unlike most school libraries in Japan, is relaxed and inviting. “We envisioned it like a living room,” explains Reiko Tomuro. While a lamp lit cluster of upholstered furnishings and floor cushions beckons borrowers as they enter the building, the upper floor capped by its soaring, slanted ceiling is reminiscent of a traditional reading room minus the usual code of silence. Top to bottom, all three floors ensure that a good read is well within reach of even the littlest book browser.
Kenichi Nakamura and Associates
Partners-in-Charge of Design:
Electric and Audio-Visual Engineer in charge:
HVAC and Plumbing Engineer in charge:
Contractor for Audio/Visual system:
Aluminum ribbed panel: Extruded aluminum ribbed panel, anodized finish
Skylights: Wired glass
Wood doors: Oil paint finish
Paints and stains:
Carpet: Tiled carpet
Glass: Tempered glass for Elevator shaft
Chairs & Tables: