Page D3.2 . 25 April 2007                     
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    Kurokawa Art Center


    Rather than forcing a building to "act like a building," Kurokawa's philosophy allows ambiguity, so that we feel that the building is as natural in its own way as the trees through which we first glimpse it.

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    Although Kurokawa is still associated with the 1960s metabolist movement that sought to create buildings and cities with modular, extendable, and replaceable elements, he now sees his architectural works in terms of a philosophy of symbiosis, which he has developed over many years and written about in such books as Each One A Hero.

    An example of how this works in architecture is the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (1998). Kurokawa was asked to design a building that was both local and global, so he set a local rainforest garden at the heart of a modern airport terminal building. He was also asked to make the airport both traditionally Islamic and internationally modern. To achieve this, he incorporated the mathematical properties of mosque architecture in the arches and other elements of the building's facade.

    Form Follows Philosophy

    Although to be fully understood, the National Art Center Tokyo (NACT) has to be viewed as part of Kurokawa's development as both a philosopher and an architect, as architectural design it also reflects factors of site, local politics, and culture.

    The site was formerly part of a military base built in 1890 between central Tokyo's Aoyama Cemetery and what later became the city's most fashionable nightlife center, Roppongi. This is an area that has been undergoing heavy development for the last decade. There was strong pressure for the publicly funded NACT to offer the public some relief from such intense urbanism. Early concept art reflects this by showing a building in lush surroundings with a turfed-over roof.

    Another key to the design concept was the decision to make a massive exhibition space that would not have its own collection. At an astounding 171,000 square feet (15,900 square meters), it is the largest exhibition space in a single building in Japan. It is intended to feature several large exhibitions at once, including those by amateur art associations like the Nitten Japan Fine Arts Group, which will use a 108,000-square-foot (10,000-square-meter) space to annually display up to 12,000 works by its members.

    "I see this new kind of museum, ... with no collection," Kurokawa explains, "as an artistic airport, where people get together to see images from all over the world, both actual and virtual. For this, we needed IT linking with optical fibers, but also we needed a huge space and more advanced facilities for handling the large volume of art that will pass through the museum. For this reason, I created a compact and mechanized automatic storage system beneath the museum."

    This storage system, located in the basement behind a truck loading dock, has the appearance in plan of a filter with corridors lined with storage spaces leading to elevator points to the upper floors. This arrangement is ideal for housing the selection process of large art associations that deal with an abundance of amateur works.

    Fitting the Site

    Although huge, the museum is unlikely to prove too big. In 2005, Tokyo played host to five of the ten best-attended exhibitions in the world. But a typical problem, even for well designed buildings in the cluttered and ever-changing cityscape of Tokyo, is how they fit into their environment.

    Views of many excellent Tokyo buildings are spoiled by what is around them. For the NACT, by contrast, the adjacent cemetery and former military base mean the site is still relatively uncluttered and likely to stay that way.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    National Art Center Tokyo, by Kisho Kurokawa.
    Photo: C.B. Liddell

    ArchWeek Image

    Glass curtain cuts ultraviolet light entering the museum.
    Photo: Courtesy Kisho Kurokawa

    ArchWeek Image

    Schematic of skin and cones.
    Image: Kisho Kurokawa

    ArchWeek Image

    Section looking east.
    Image: Kisho Kurokawa

    ArchWeek Image

    Cafe-topped cone in the lobby.
    Photo: C.B. Liddell

    ArchWeek Image

    Cafe atop the cone.
    Photo: C.B. Liddell

    ArchWeek Image

    Interior view of the curved glass facade.
    Photo: C.B. Liddell

    ArchWeek Image

    Entrance lobby ceiling.
    Photo: C.B. Liddell


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