Italian Cultural Institute Tokyo Library

Cultural sustainability


The Library of the Italian Institute of Culture in Tokyo – designed by architect Gae Aulenti completed in 2005 – has been reopened after a radical renovation and re-functionalization. The Italian Institute of Culture aims to promote dialogue and integration between Italians and Japanese. This goal is also at the centre of the renovation of the premises. The Library is conceived as a stimulating and comfortable space to find the communication tools for the interchange.

The project draws inspiration from the Japanese architectural culture – particularly the flexibility of space – by adapting the environment to the diverse activities promoted by the Institute. Furthermore, it is also inspired by the Italian architectural culture – especially the design – by providing the setting with the finest furniture designed by distinguished Italian designers. Based on these compositional principles, space has been divided into four functional zones as follows.

The first area is a multi-purpose environment at the entrance: a space to hold Italian courses, for reading, for relaxing with newspapers and magazines; a flexible paper wall separate this area from the path to the Library; a large arch lamp welcomes visitors (Yumi by FontanaArte, designed by Shigeru Ban).

The second area is the heart of the Library, a sort of inner courtyard with a large reading table in the centre (Naòs by Unifor, designed by Pierluigi Cerri), surrounded by the pre-existing bookshelves (Libreria CF by Unifor, designed by Dante Bonuccelli) and new red shelves (Z-shelf by Moroso, designed by Ron Arad). The editorial novelties are housed in a contemporary custom made libraries anchored on a pillar, designed by MBA and inspired by the Continental by Joe Colombo (1965). This zone also includes a lounge spot equipped with movable soft seating and armchairs (Pix and Saari by Arper). The external glass wall, freed from old furniture, allows today a pleasant introspection between the Institute’s interior and the urban exteriors.

The third is reserved for offices and houses the staff of the Library. It is made of glass walls (RP by Unifor, designed by Renzo Piano). The portraits of famous writers and poets who have honoured our country, from Calvino to Ginzburg, Pasolini, Morante, Montale and Deledda, are silk-screened on the glass partitions. The prints are rendered abstracted closely through the halftone technique, but the represented subject returns perceptible at a distance.

The fourth, more secluded, is behind the office area and is reserved for study and concentration (space illuminated by the lamps Tolomeo by Artemide, designed by Michele De Lucchi). Ecological materials, high-strength, low-maintenance vinyl floors and LED lights have been adopted to complement library lighting. For information and communication, a magnetic board placed at the entrance allows traditional forms of messages while the innovation is given by three iPad Pro tablets freely usable by visitors.

Colour has also been used as a means of symbolic expression, particularly to underline the goal of reconciling the two Italian and Japanese cultures in this project. The iridescent red that characterizes Gae Aulenti’s design – and remembers the Japanese tradition of lacquers – have been chosen as a colour for many furnishings. It has also been integrated with the other two primaries, yellow and blue, to signal discreet chromatic emergencies in environments with restful white walls and beige furnishings.



  • 2018


  • 300 sqm


  • Tokyo


  • Italian Institute of Culture Tokyo


  • Shukoh K.K.


  • MB-AA


  • Matteo Belfiore - Project leader


  • Matteo Belfiore, Tomohiro Fujita


  • Completed


  • Interior design, Graphic design, Site supervision


  • Lorenzo Barassi