Hoki Museum by Nikken Sekkei
Yamanashi was particularly keen to use LED lights for their small size, low heat output, and easy maintenance. The one drawback was the narrow spectrum of light emitted by each one.
"When we see a picture lit up with LED, it doesn't look bright and natural, so usually people dislike using LED light to light up realist paintings," he explains.
To solve this problem, Yamanashi combined LEDs of different wavelengths. For each painting there are ten to 20 individual, computer-controlled LEDs trained on it. Rather than providing a uniform light, the LEDs can be adjusted to create differential lighting in different parts of the painting if desired.
Indeed, contrary to my initial presumptions, Yamanashi describes his approach to architecture as largely functionalist. He spends much of his time designing offices, and admires well-designed everyday objects such as chairs and pens.
"If you see the architectural world, most functional architecture is very square. It is not interesting. But in the world of product design, functional designers can attract people's eyes, so I'm very influenced by that."
Even the Hoki Museum's dramatic, 30-meter- (98-foot) long cantilevered section — which the architect admits was designed partly to give the building an eye-catching profile — essentially grew out of a response to the site.
Yamanashi sought to "erase" the residential properties on one side of the site and highlight the forested park on the other. So, while the building's lower floors were designed to follow the curve of the site, the top volume curves the other direction and has windows only on the park side.
"The Hoki museum is a strong steel tube on top of another tube," he explains. "If you place arcs on top of each other, they always make contact at two points. The Hoki Museum is like that. So, by making the cantilever, we could actually improve the balance."
"We realized that, in this way, we could put most of the support for the structure at only two points, and if we used steel panels, we could attain a very smooth, continuous, seamless space very easily, so this is how we decided the shape itself."
The opposing orientations of the two curves create a harmonious sense of counterpoint that enlivens the design. It is just a coincidence that this also happens to resemble the shape of a lens.
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C.B. Liddell lives in Japan. He is the art and architecture editor of Tokyo's Metropolis, and also writes regularly for The Japan Times and a number of other publications. More by C.B. Liddell