Gifu Media Cosmos
By Jennifer McMaster
Gifu Media Cosmos sits in the heart of Gifu, a mountainous province in central Japan. Designed by the renowned architect Toyo Ito & Associates, the building is an inventive and imaginative example of the potentials inherent in timber construction.
Gifu Media Cosmos is also known as ‘minna no mori’ – a phrase that translates to mean ‘everyone’s forest.’ The building, which acts as a community center and library, was intended to be a place of ‘quiet bustle,’ where local residents could gather, forge friendships, study, work and learn. This spirit of accessibility has resulted in an architectural gesture that is bold and innovative, and yet never becomes overpowering. Instead, the building inspires awe, wonder and a spirit of openness.
Gifu Media Cosmos appears in its cityscape as a rather generic glass and timber box. It is respectful to its context, matching the heights and datums of its neighbors. Behind this relatively plain facade, the building is capped by a gently curving roof, which references the nearby Mount Kinka.
This relatively neutral exterior belies a surprising interior. Inside, Gifu Media Cosmos is a dramatic sight. The architecture is defined by two key elements: a sprawling, latticed timber roof, and a series of ‘globes,’ which hover over the interior space like lanterns. These parts play off each other beautifully, with the hard, woven lines of the timber ceiling contrasting the soft, ethereal globes.
Gifu Media Cosmos is a large, open plan space supported on occasional columns. Movement is free and uncluttered, with multiple entry points and circulation routes.
Loose islands of activity are dotted across the floor plan, with the oversized globes floating downwards to illuminate areas for rest, research and play. Cleverly, these overhead lanterns create the quality and intimacy of separate rooms, without needing to rely on walls or horizontal surfaces.
Across Gifu Media Cosmos, these globes also perform several functions. They disperse a gentle, even light throughout the space and, when opened at the top, emit hot air from the building. They also act as way-finding devices, as each individual lantern is patterned to match its function.
Elsewhere, most of the furniture is arranged in loose, radial patterns. Curved bookshelves and circular rugs create soft edges and gentle spatial divides. This strategy makes the different parts of the building feel distinctive and yet interconnected.
Japan has a long history of creative timber craftsmanship, and Gifu Media Cosmos continues in this tradition. The entire structure is a remarkable piece of engineering and craft. The roof is comprised of 120mm x 20mm pieces of Japanese cypress, which were overlapped on site to give the surface its structural integrity.
The lanterns, meanwhile, are made of tri-axially woven polyester, which has been stiffened into shape using horizontal rods. These fabric surfaces are patterned with various geometries, such as hexagons and circles, lending them further finesse.
At Gifu Media Cosmos, Toyo Ito & Associates have created a piece of architecture that is at once complex and clear. It is structurally and architecturally ambitious, yet still feels warm and welcoming to those who use the space. This ability to balance inventiveness with restraint has resulted in a building that is quiet, and yet powerful, in its expression, utility and identity.