As information becomes increasingly available online, anywhere, anytime, the occupation of a public library must take on a new modus operandi. Nomura Co. has designed an unconventional one for Kikuchi city, located in Kyushu. Its intention is to attract young people, who have been leaving to the big cities in droves, by creating a meeting point to remember. To do so, it draws from the notion of place branding.

When Nomura Co. designer Kazunobu Nakamura interviewed locals, it was unanimous: ‘The symbol of Kikuchi city is the Kikuchi river.’ That set his goal for the space: to connect the people to the library and the city by evoking this feeling of attachment. This resulted in a flowing landscape of bookshelves, emulating the form and movement of the local body of water. Nakamura shifts from the traditional focus of the-space-we-have-designed-has-bookshelves-in-it to the-bookshelves-we-have-designed-set-the-tone-of-the-whole-space.

‘The reason why the children do not think that they want to come back to Kikuchi city someday may be because there is no place [in the city] for children to gather,’ Nakamura contemplates. ‘So I thought that like a plaza in Europe, I would like to create a vibrant place where citizens can gather.’ The aptly named Book River shelving design begins its journey in the furniture-filled low-lying children’s area. There are 13 apertures incorporated throughout the shelving, referencing the rocks and waterfalls that redirect the river flow, but also providing intimate spaces or open collaboration environments for residents to explore, meet and create fond memories together.

I thought that like a plaza in Europe, I would like to create a vibrant place where citizens can gather

Big-city life attracts Japan’s youth with its promise of fortune, romance and career – tellingly, the urban-dwelling population jumped from 53 per cent to 93 per cent between 1950 and 2014, and the last decade saw around 200 communities in Japan vanish. One city is depopulating so rapidly it’s facing a ninja shortage. With this in mind, it is no wonder that place branding has become an increasingly popular concept in Japan – see Japanese mascot culture. Nakamura designed the library with this in mind, and focused on creating positive memories of place for the children and youth of Kikuchi.

As it happens, the place branding efforts of the Kumamoto Prefecture, where Kikuchi is located, could be seen as a success story in Japan. The latest census, released in July 2018, shows that the prefecture logged the greatest residential increase in the country, at 16.64 per cent. Meanwhile, the Kikuchi City Central Library saw visitor numbers that equate to 80 per cent of the city’s population within the first two months of its opening. In a city of 50,000 inhabitants, that can only attest to the library benefitting the urban brand and how it creates a positive experience for its people.