Page D2.2 . 14 March 2001                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department



Architecture: The Critics' Choice


Wartime bombs had left an irregular hole in the city-center fabric which was being used as a car park, but there was a need to knit the area together again. The most prominent local monument was a church spire to the west, and the architects conceived the idea of making a new pedestrian alley on its axis.

Initially intended to divide the library from a museum included in the competition brief, it finally became the division between reference and lending libraries. The two halves are linked at basement level and by a high-level bridge.

The part to the north completes an existing urban block, looking into an enclosed court, while the crescent-shaped block to the south completes the street pattern while acknowledging the object-like car showroom opposite, a building from the 1950s.

Marked by a cafe and raised piazza, the main entrance is at the northwest corner where the streets meet. All the main staircases within the building run next to the alleyway, and windows open onto it, visually combining movement inside and out to animate the path.

The linear form of the north block lends itself to open galleries while the deeper south block offers a calmer atmosphere for browsing stacks and reading at tables.

And while the outer wall is sheer and high with deliberately undifferentiated windows, the pedestrian street is small in scale. Its sides lean outwards to increase light, their roof-like surfaces clad in copper.

Supported inside by prominent, visible curved timber ribs — again roof rather than wall materials — their vulnerability emphasizes the importance of this crack through the building.

Just how contextual the library is can be understood by imagining it transplanted to another location, lacking the specific connections on which it depends. But for all its sensitivity in plan and massing, it makes few concessions to surrounding buildings in terms of style.

Instead it brings to the situation its own rather hybrid vocabulary which seems more reminiscent of the work of Organic Modernists such as Aalto, Asplund, and Scharoun than of earlier architects.

There is a good deal of interplay between the exposure of materials and surfaces in some places and the contrary intention elsewhere of suppression under abstract render and paint. The intense relationship between architecture and abstract painting discovered in the 1920s is here re-explored.

Naoshima (Japan) Contemporary Art Museum

Although the Japanese architect Tadao Ando first achieved recognition for city buildings, his most powerful projects are those for rural sites, often adjacent to water, such as his Children's Museum, Himeji, Hyogo, Japan (1988-89).

In such an environment his designs achieve a serenity and a harmony with natural forces quite different from the aggressive armature of his urban work. The commission for a hotel and museum on an island in Japan's Inland Sea provided another open location — one which also presented constraints as severe as the tightest city plot.

The hundreds of small islands in the Inland Sea have been an inspiration to generations of artists and poets, and Naoshima had a pristine beauty.

The publisher Soichiro Fukutake wanted a private gallery on Naoshima for his family's large collection of 20th-century American art, but Japanese law for the development of land designated as parkland required that accommodation be provided as well, so this was incorporated into the design.

There were two separate phases of building but, because both the owner and the architect wanted to interfere with the landscape as little as possible, Ando buried a good deal of the structure in the cliffs; less than half the museum is visible above ground.

Arrival is by water, so the buildings face the sea. From the pier, visitors ascend to a small, wildflower-filled plateau and terrace, with discrete elements of the museum — cone, rough stone wall, cylindrical volume — just visible at the end of the terrace.

Once in the main building, however, the central, double-height cylindrical space opens up under a brilliant light from the conical skylight above. Galleries are disposed around the cylinder from the basement up, the top two floors consisting of some of the guest rooms.

These face the sky, the water, and the smooth concrete walls of the museum, elements that merge with seamless elegance. In 1997 a second gallery and additional guest rooms were added at an angle to and on a hill slightly above the museum. Cleft deep into the hillside, this oval structure, which encircles a still pool, includes a gallery, cafeteria and ten guest rooms.

Ando is known for his obsessive attention to detail and for his extraordinarily deft handling of concrete; so often harsh and uncompromising, in his hands the material acquires the smoothness and depth of satin.

Unlike most architects practicing today, he learned his craft by travelling, observing, and building, not by attending architecture school. This freed him from the tyranny of fashion, and from the need to develop a signature style.

It also ensured that he would pursue his own rigorous research and that his work could not be easily imitated. His efforts have been concentrated on the creation of buildings based on a manifest logic — rendering clear what is complex — and on the sense of touch, in sensuous harmony with nature.

And that is the dominant quality at Naoshima, where the island terrain is largely left as Ando found it, the buildings nestled into and merging with the setting.

This article is excerpted from "Architecture: The Critics' Choice," edited by Dan Cruikshank. Copyright © 2000 The Ivy Press. Used by arrangement with Watson-Guptill Publications (New York). It is available where books are sold including at



ArchWeek Photo

Aerial view of Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum by Tadao Ando, 1989-92, 1997.
Photo: Tadao Ando Architect & Associates/Benesse Corp.

ArchWeek Photo

Floor plan of Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum
Image: Tadao Ando

ArchWeek Photo

Interior view of Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum
Photo: Koji Murakami

ArchWeek Photo

Architecture: The Critics' Choice: 150 Masterpieces of Western Architecture Selected and Defined by the Experts, edited by Dan Cruikshank, published by Watson-Guptill Publications.
Photo: Arcaid/Richard Bryant


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