DAY 8 (2/6): ARCHITECTURE OF THE 21st CENTURY, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.06.01
For architects and designers, the single most important reason coming to Kanazawa is perhaps to visit the contemporary art museum just across the street from Kenroku-en Garden. Designed by Pritzker Prize awarded firm SANAA under Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa and opened in 2004, the unique 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館) is one of the most widely published contemporary architecture in Japan during the 2000’s. Staying low as a single storey building, the circular building aims to minimize its impact to the surrounding landscape. Exhibition galleries, library, lecture hall, workshops, offices, lobbies, and courtyards are housed in a huge circular building fully cladded with glass at its circumference. Given we have seen the architecture in design magazines and Internet websites throughout the years, SANAA’s famous museum in Kanazawa is like a friend that we have never met. Since the museum would get crowded with its popularity not just for tourists but also local visitors coming for workshops and cultural events, we made the effort to arrive before the facility’s opening time.
With multiple functions configured within a circular plan with a diameter of 112.5m, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館) is a unique piece of architecture accessible from all four directions.
The outer facade is entirely covered with full height glazing to express a sense of welcome and transparency for visitors.
Outside the circular building, there are a number of outdoor art installations erected around the museum.
Perhaps inspired by the building form, the outdoor art installations are also organic or circular in form.
Before entering the museum, we walked around the building once to check out the art installations as well as the building itself.
Workshops and other common areas lined along the circumference of the museum building.
Just like many tourist attractions in Japan, the famous museum is also popular with school kids.
We managed to get our admission tickets without much queuing minutes after the museum opened its doors.
The first thing we did was to find a locker to store our bags so that we could enjoy a carefree visit.
Along the curved glazed facade, there were a number of gathering spaces of different sizes available, perhaps catered for different programme.
Everything in the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is clean, minimal and neutral in colour.
Photography was prohibited at indoor exhibitions. At the centre of the building, a glazed walkway passed through a courtyard dominated by a beautiful archway made of green wall.
In the glazed walkway, we could have a glimpse of the interesting art installation on the roof.
The Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich is the most famous art installation in the museum.
The piece is accessible from both the Ground and Basement levels. From the Ground level, spectators can look down and see the visitors in the basement level through a shallow level of water, as if looking looking into a real swimming pool.
From the basement level, spectators find themselves in a pool like environment as if walking at the bottom of a swimming pool.
The water effect appears in the most spectacular fashion when the sun is out from above.
After a full day excursion of historical temples and natural scenery in Nikko, we decided to spend the next day to explore another neighborhood in Tokyo. We started the day at the southwest area of Sumida District (墨田区), near the metro station of Ryogoku (両国). Many tourists come to Ryogoku (両国) for sumo (相撲): visit sumo stables to view professional practice, or checked out chanko nabe restaurants for a sumo meal, or even watch a game of sumo wrestling at Ryogoku Kokugikan (Ryogoku Sumo Hall). We, however, came to the area for museum hopping.
Opened in 2016, the Sumida Hokusai Museum is being considered as a novel cultural icon of Sumida. Designed by Kazuyo Sejima (妹島 和世), the sleek architecture houses exhibitions to showcase the life and works of the world famous ukiyo-e (浮世絵) artist Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎). With his Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景), Hokusai is definitely the most iconic figure of ukiyo-e (浮世絵) in the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). Kazuyo Sejima (妹島 和世), the founder of SANAA and a recipient of the Pritzker Prize in architecture with Ryue Nishizawa, is also a generation defining Japanese architect in her own right. From the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, New Museum in New York, Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne, to Louvre Lens Museum in France, Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA have inspired uncounted architects and designers around the world in the last two decades.
The Midoricho Park (緑町公園) where Sumida Hokusai Museum is erected, is also the birthplace of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎).
Sejima’s building immediately became a cultural icon in the rather low key residential neighborhood. The building provides an interesting backdrop for the community play area of Midoricho Park.
The building scale and the facade’s level of reflectiveness express a certain degree of novelty without creating an overwhelming impact to the surrounding context.
The cave like slit at each of the four sides provides a prominent entrance gateway at each side.
The reflectivity of the museum’s metal cladding is right on.
Everything on the facade is clean and minimal.
We walked to the main entrance via one of the triangular opening on the facade.
The facets of the glass panes and the reflections of the outside offer a unique entrance experience.
The detailing of the triangular opening is once again clean and minimal.
The angular aspects of the architecture is carried through into the interior.
The washroom on the ground floor is a cute little cube at the lobby.
Beside Sejima’ architecture, the works of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) were well worth the admission.
The exhibition space is not big. Most of his paintings are hung along the wall. Artifacts such as books and sketches.
The most famous works by Kazuyo Sejima is Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景 Fugaku Sanjūroku-kei). A selection of the 36 prints had been put on display.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa is perhaps the most well known image by Katsushika Hokusai.
Some of the final works by Katsushika Hokusai are also on display.
A wax display depicting the studio of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) and his daughter back in the Edo Period.
Outside of the exhibition area, there is a seating area with great views towards the Sky Tree.
In a November evening in 2012, we attended an architectural lecture at University of Toronto by Ryue Nishizawa (西沢立衛), one of the two principals of the world acclaimed architectural firm SANAA. In that lecture, he talked about several of his projects, including his recent projects (back then), the minimal Louvre Gallery in Lens of France and the sculptural teardrop of Teshima Art Museum (豊島美術館). At about the same time, he also finished an art gallery in Karuizawa, famous for the undulating gallery floor that resembles the natural terrain and the curvilinear glass enclosure of landscaped lightwells. Hiroshi Senju Museum of Karuizawa (軽井沢千住博美術館) was the main reason for our Karuizawa day trip out of Tokyo. Hiroshi Senju (千住博) is a Japanese painting known for his large scale waterfall paintings. He was the first Asian artist to receive a Honorable Mention at the Venice Biennale in 1995. Admiring Hiroshi Senju’s landscape paintings in Ryue Nishizawa’s landscape inspired architecture is like seeing art in a minimalist manmade forest in Karuizawa.
The museum is located out of the tourist area of Karuizawa. After getting off at the nearest bus stop, we walked a bit along a country road to reach the museum. A unique white sign greeted us at the museum forecourt.
Before seeing the white and minimalist main museum building, we passe by another interesting piece of architecture, the panel cladded visitor centre.
From the parking lot, a winding pathway led us to the entrance of the main museum building.
We entered the main exhibition space through the transparent entrance vestibule. From outside, it was impossible to imagine what surprises lie ahead in front of us.
Once inside, we were immediately captivated by the harmonious relationship between art, architecture and nature.
Walking on the gently sloping floor of the museum as if strolling on the pre-existing natural terrain of the site. Even the seating matches the curvilinear forested lightwells inside the exhibition space.
Curvilinear glass enclosure of various sizes create a number of naturalistic lightwells or miniature forests.
Walking between two lightwells felt like wandering through two art installations in a forest.
Other than the paintings by Hiroshi Senju, the lightwells of the building were definitely unique art pieces for me.
Back at the main parking lot, the sleek and dark visitor centre expresses a totally different tone.
While the main museum is all about its nature-inspired interior, the visitor centre contrastingly tells a form-driven design story.