Nagasaki Art Museum
The walkway also provides a viewing area for looking into the museum and therefore acts as an outdoor municipal exhibition space, drawing the city into the museum. The canal literally and figuratively immerses the museum within the site.
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The experience of visiting the museum is affected by the site's strong intersection of urban characteristics, as well as by the natural landscape. At ground level, a broad plaza with a "river amphitheater" seeps toward one side of the museum and expands into the lofty entrance lobby.
Much of the public program is located at this level, including a media center and a gallery facing the canal. The ground level in the other volume includes a narrowly proportioned, glass-enclosed "river gallery," as well as archives, stacks, and an information lab.
Exhibition halls and smaller galleries occupy the upper level; a wide glass bridge, acting doubly as the museum cafe, connects the two sides at this level. Occasional light wells and picture windows punctuate the spaces of the artist studios, offering glimpses of the city. Even the roof of the museum, including the upper surface of the bridge, is designed as a landscaped area for viewing the expansive panorama of the port city.
From a distance, the museum appears as screens of thin stone, metal, and glass. Vertical louvers composed of approximately 129,000 square feet (12,000 square meters) of Brazilian granite surround it. The louvers and the museum's primary enclosure do not always coincide, instead leaving partially enclosed outdoor spaces that are evocative of the traditional Japanese veranda.
Kuma's Group Forms
Kuma's method of breaking down a large program into its functional, spatial, or formal elements and then combining them into large but loose compositions seems to echo the work of his early mentor Fumihiko Maki, whose approach to urban projects involved achieving what he called "group form."
In this design strategy, Maki investigated the relationship between the parts and the whole, and he articulated it so as to create reciprocity between the two. In such organizations, individual elements generate a less predetermined whole by virtue of the flexible connections among them, which are provided through interstitial spaces. In turn, the whole, as an aggregate system or group form, ensures the viability of the parts.
In the practical terms of designing large pieces of architecture or urban-scale projects, this means that outside spaces, usually public parks or plazas in between architectural units, play a role as important as that of the units themselves. These spaces also have the capacity to form a matrix of intermediary zones between a large architectural complex and its environment, usually the urban realm.
Kuma began to receive commissions for larger urban-scale projects after the remarkable success of his previous works, the Ando Hiroshige Museum and the Stone Plaza and Museum, both completed in 2000, and following his winning the competition to design the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum in 2001.
Regarding these two earlier buildings, it is important to point out that he was already implementing aspects of the methodology that he was to apply later in his larger projects. He designed the Ando Hiroshige Museum with a gatewaylike opening that provided not only the means of entrance to the building but also an open passage through it, connecting the small community in front to the Shinto shrine behind.
Almost the same intention is at work in his much larger museum complex in Nagasaki.
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Botond Bognar is the author of numerous books on contemporary Japanese architecture, including Kengo Kuma: Selected Works. He is a professor and the Edgar A. Tafel Chair in Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
This article is excerpted from Material Immaterial: The New Work of Kengo Kuma by Botond Bognar, copyright © 2009, with permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press.