The Picture Book Museum, also known as the Picture Book Library, is located in Iwaki

Picture Book Museum/Library, reading room;Copyrightowner:Shinkenchiku Magazine 11, 2005; Permission pending.

City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. Renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando designed this privately-owned special library mainly to serve three local preschools ("Works," 2009; "Vol.210," n.d.). However, since the opening of its doors in 2005, visitors have flocked to the library on its open-access days to see Ando’s design and to enjoy the collection of international children’s books.


Iwaki City is the 10th largest urban area in Japan. It boasts a mild temperate climate with four seasons. It's located on the Pacific coast with mountains and forests surrounding it. The area is popular with tourists due to the natural beauty and hot springs resorts. 7.64 million sightseers visit Iwaki each year ("Iwaki, Fukushima," 2009).Kindergarten Principle Mr. Ray was born in Sukagawa and attended Fukushima University to study education. In 1977 he founded the Iwaki Preschool. The Picture Book Library was conceived in 2003 (Ehondiary, 2005) to serve that preschool and two others, White Rose and Alice Preschools (one can see Alice in Wonderland-themed items throughout the building.) Architect Tadao Ando responded to a letter from Mr. Ray, pleading for Ando's help in creating a special space for children to enjoy books. Ray died in May of 2009, and Ando stated that he'd lived "a beautiful life" and that Ray had been able to "show the world as hopeful and full of light" ("Kindergarten head across," 2010). Ando was a partner in that vision with his light-filled space.The preschools use the building on Mondays through Thursdays ("Vol.210," n.d.). The public can enjoy the building by submitting a written request and receiving a date-specific invitation. Fridays are the public-access days. Entrance is free. Visitors can arrive on foot, by car or via bus (Kankou-iwaki, 2008).


  • 2003 Tadao Ando was commissioned to build the Picture Book Library.
  • 2004 The building was completed.
  • 2005 The library opened its doors to both the preschools it serves, and the public.

Project description

Picture Book Museum/Library, book shelves: Copyright owner Hibi No Shinbun; Permission pending.

Ando was given only one instruction in how the library was to look; the founder wanted to see the book covers (Vol. 210). The complete freedom the architect was given is reflected in the final product. "I am sure there is no sign, don’t laugh, anywhere. An atmosphere of playfulness, not awe or indoctrination, is the hallmark of this new paradigm of educational facility"(Nitschke, 2006). "It will help [kids] dream" says Ando (Ehondiary, 2005).
The main reading room of the library consists of wooden walls of book cubbies, the covers facing outward and arranged by subject. Stairs ascend throughout the room, acting as both a method of conveyance and seating for reading children. A storytime room is glass-walled and filled with colorful bumps of cushions. The concrete walls are warmed by the large quantity of natural wood and sunlight streaming through the many windows. In fact, the only three materials used in the building are fair-faced reinforced concrete, glass, and wood. (Nitchke, 2006). Though some may consider concrete a sterile or bland material, Ando sees it as warm and complex. He states, “Concrete can be very rich in color…the gradations of color create a sense of depth” (Auping 2002, p. 34). The seascape visible in every part of the building, creating a feeling of reading outdoors even on inclement days.
The collection is international in scope and contains only picture books aimed at young children. There are approximately 10,000 books in the collection 1500 of which are on display at any given time. The collection was privately compiled before being shared in the library. Of particular interest is the Maurice Sendak book "Outside, Over There" まどのそとのそのまたむこう (Ehondiray, 2005). This book influenced the design of the building, which is often called 絵本美術館 まどのそとのそのまたむこう, loosely translated as "The Picture Book Library: Outside is the Inside"(sorario books, 2009). Other authors featured in the collection are Marie Hall Ets, Edward Gorey and Kate Greenaway ("73," n.d.).Ando, speaking of another project, said “Even if the space is small there can be the potential of the cosmos. If the space is constructed with a forceful imagination, there is the possibility of entering the space and leaving it at the same time” (Auping, 2002, p. 22) This philosophy fits with the "Outside Over There" theme of incorporating the exterior with the interior spaces. Moreover, it highlights the architect's dedication in fostering imagination within his designs.
Picture Book Museum/Library, namesake book まどのそとのそのまたむこうモーリスセンダッ;Copyright owner: sorairo books; Permission pending.

site area
3,237.85 square meters
total floor area
634.05 square meters
reinforced concrete; 1 basement and 1 story
("JA 60: Yearbook," n.d.).

The simplicity of color is noted by some reviewers who mention the fact that the Western notion of child-friendly decor is less stark and angular (Hofmeister, 2008, p. 38). In the Picture Book Library the only color is supplied by the bright patterns of the books themselves. The corridors are kept deliberately dark, in defiance of a Western preference for evenly light-filled spaces. “You will be able to see the light because of the darkness,” says Ando (Auping, p. 51).

Some proportions of the building may also seem unusual to adult sensibilities because of the child-sized scale. Stair railings are at both child and adult level. The windows appear to incorporate panes that are child-scaled. Even the bathroom facilities ehibit sensitivity to the size of the primary user.
Picture Book Museum, Blueprints. Copyright owner: Department ofArchitecture, 2005, Toyorder, 2007; Permission pending.

6000 people visited the Picture Book Library in its first 10 months, often 200 on each public day. Visitors exclaimed of the building: “The museum is "architecture of light...the concrete feels so warm" ("73," n.d.). Critics say "a tension-rich rhythm develops out brightly and darkly, from open and closed zones" (Hofmeister, 2008, p. 41). "Like so many of his greatest buildings, it pulls off a remarkable illusion: the walls may be built from blocks of concrete, but, from the inside at least, the building feels as if its primary materials were light and air" (Secher, 2006). "There is no dead end,” one blogger noted, and they were reminded of M.C. Escher (Toyorder, 2007). A group of students raved it "is spectacular, offering views across the Pacific Ocean from anywhere on the premices...This space is fun even for adults"(Department of Architecture, 2005).

The Picture Book Library has a cat on the premises for the children to play with (しょうへい父ちゃん母ちゃんの無駄話, 2006). It has been highlighted as one of the "25 Most Modern Libraries in the World" (Best Colleges Online, 2008).


Tadao Ando has been a professional boxer and truck driver, but has gained worldwide fame as a self-taught architect. His works are known for the sparse shapes, innovative use of light and simple materials. His work is often compared to other modern masters such as Louis Kahn and Le Courbusier ("Tadao Ando," n.d.). He has won the Pritzker Prize, which is the most coveted distinction in the field. Some of his most famous works include Church on the Water and the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum.

Ando's style is called critical regionalism by some, though “concrete regionalism” was the tongue-in-cheek term suggested by suggested by Catherine Slessor (Wu, 2006, p.1). It could probably also be called Vernacular Modernism (Wu, p.1). The style is modern, simple, and creates a sense of space and intimacy. Ando's Japanese aesthetic is not regional in the sense that he uses shoji screens or tatami mats, but rather that he uses techniques like dark narrow corridors opening into light-filled space as would be seen in traditional Japanese farmhouses. He also uses free-standing concrete walls to reflect light, which, in effect, become walls of light.
Ando has designed two other library/museums: an addition to the International Library of Children's Literature in Tokyo and the Shiba Ryataro Memorial Museum in Osaka. The Children's Literature addition married the historical feel of the old building with Ando’s signature glass & concrete. ("Tadao Ando International," 2004). The Ryotaro Museum features similar cubby-like storage to the Picture Book Museum in Iwaki. ("Tadao Ando Tells," 2009).


The library is funded privately through the preschools it serves, and by visitor donations.
Picture Book Museum/Library, exterior; Copyright owner: Shinkenchiku Magazine 11, 2005; Permission pending.

Contact Information

Picture Book Museum
絵本美術館 まどのそとのそのまたむこう


Architect: Tadao Ando
Community: Iwaki City

Construction: Zenitaka Corporation
[[ |A listing of other picture book museums and libraries for children in Japan]]


International Library of Children's Literature, interior; Copyright owner: Arcspace; Permission pending.

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