Archinect

Knowlton School of Architecture (2005-2009) (Evan)

  • KSA Japan: Okayama Orient Museum

    Some thoughts on the Okayama Orient Museum, one of the trip's unexpected surprises. (Originally posted at the author's blog, evanchakroff.com)

    As previously noted, I spent most of last December in Japan, leading a group of students and professors (from Ohio State University) on a tour from Tokyo down to Hiroshima and back. I’ve already posted my general day-by-day travelogue, and now as I continue editing my photos, I’ll be selecting a few buildings for somewhat deeper analysis. In recent months, I posted some thoughts on Tokyo’s Tsukiji market, and on the famous Ise Shrine. Today, I bring you the Okayama Orient Museum, designed by Okada Associates and constructed from 1979 to 1980.

    Okayama is probably best known as the home of the Korakuen garden (one of “Japan’s top three landscape gardens” if one believes the hype), but has a handful of significant works of architecture, and is definitely worth a visit if one is in the area. We were a little rushed during our half-day in the city; I would recommend a full day at least. The architecture of Okayama is not very well documented, and the Orient Museum was a big mystery for us, added to our itinerary at the last minute, based on vague assertions that it was an award-winning design with an excellent collection of antiquities. I’m glad we stopped, because this is a little gem of a museum, an architecturally ambitious design with excellent natural light, an intriguing internal circulation system, and a keen attention to detail that supports and enhances appreciation of the museum collection – in short, it does everything you’d expect top-tier museum architecture to do, and it’s a shame it’s so rarely published and poorly documented, at least in English journals and websites.

    The museum collection here consists primarily of middle-eastern antiquities, artifacts from the ancient civilizations of the fertile crescent, with the occasional object from ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman civilizations. The contents of the permanent collection surely influenced the design: one way to justify the hideous exterior is to cast it as a modern-dayziggurat, the blocky forms approximating those ancient monuments. The exterior is almost purposefully hideous, clad in what appear to be dirty bathroom tiles, with few apparent windows, and little to offer the pedestrian or the city, though I suppose the lack of connection here could be explained as part of a method to control light and thus keep the antiquities well-preserved.

    Thankfully, on entering the building, the Ziggurat metaphor falls away, and one is surprised and delighted by an interior space bathed in natural light, with a central atrium criss-crossed by bridges that give visitors the opportunity to view the many collected objects (and other visitors!) from various vantage points. It’s an internalized late-Brutalist world on par withPortman’s Bonaventure lobby, but at a more comfortable scale and without the relentless, dehumanizing symmetry of that project. In fact, the internal layout here is intuitively legible. The planning is clearly based on a nine-square grid with a void in the center, your typical courtyard typology. Gallery spaces pinwheel around the central hall, which is divided by an elevated walkway, clearly marking one end of the atrium as central, the other as a peripheral entrance (at the corner).

    While there is no predefined path through the museum,  I found myself immediately drawn up the grand staircase, towards a second-floor space bathed in natural light, which served as a kind of internalized forecourt to the upper-level galleries. From here, one could trace a figure-eight path through the upper level galleries and return without backtracking. Below, variably-scaled gallery spaces seem to expand and contract to accommodate artifacts of differing size, and one wonders if the museum design was planned with specific objects in mind.

    The spatial qualities of the museum alone make this worth an extended stop, but the attention to detail is worth mentioning. Across Japan, nearly every piece of architecture is exquisitely detailed, but here the material treatment of the gallery walls are especially notable, as the rough concrete work gives way, in specific locations only, to finely-patterned reliefs that seem to echo the patterns of the objects in the permanent collection (see the first image in this post). This attention to detail reveals how deeply committed the architects were to creating an appropriate space for viewing the collection, and I expect that with further research we’d find that the curatorial team had worked hand-in-hand with the designers.

    Unfortunately, details on the design process are spotty. Friend and former classmate Addisonmanaged to find a set of drawings in a 1981 edition of Japan Architect, and the museum was well-known enough to garner awards as late as 1988 (according to the Okada Assoc. website). However, there’s precious little material in English about the design, or even about the architect, Shinichi Okada (& Assoc), who remains somewhat overlooked by canonical histories of Japanese modernism. The architect’s eclectic body of work (perhaps best seenhere on the excellent but generically-named Japan Photo site) does little to help us situate the firm in an overarching meta-narrative of Japanese modernism, and without knowledge of the Japanese language and access to contemporary journals, it’s hard to know how this work was perceived in its time, and so it remains, for me, an interesting and mysterious tangent from the mainstream of Japanese architecture.

    As always, more photos on my Flickr page. My Okayama set includes this, the aforementioned garden, and a civic center by Kunio Maekawa)

    Location:

    700-0814 Okayama
    Kita-ku, Tenjin-cho 9-31

    View Larger Map


  • KSA Japan: Postscript: Ise Shrine

    Over the past few weeks, I've been slowly going through my photos from the Japan trip, and posting, bit by bit, to my Flickr account.Today I edited photos from the Ise Shrine, where I took a few matched shots of the new and old shrines, for comparison. The new shrine is constructed (and...


  • Constructing Modernity (KSA Japan Wrap-Up)

    Well, it’s over. The whirlwind 17-day tour of central Japan went even better than expected, thanks to our excellent driver, and to the kindness of the many Japanese folks who let us into their buildings when they could have easily turned us away, and especially to the students who came...


  • KSA Japan Day 15-17: Kanazawa to Tokyo

    Day 15: Kanazawa to Takayama Rainy and miserable, we trudged through Kenroku-en, one of "japan's top three landscape gardens" - it may have been the weather, it may have been garden fatigue, but few of us could really appreciate the garden's charms at this point. Too bad (and maybe worth...


  • KSA Japan Day 12-14: Kyoto

    Day 12: Kyoto First stop: Ryoan-Ji, a Zen Buddhist temple most famous for its dry (rock) garden: a mysterious arrangements of rocks that's been the subject of speculation for centuries. It's been said the rocks represent a family of tigers swimming across a river, or mountain peaks piercing the...


  • KSA Japan Day 11: Hiroshima - Okayama - Kyoto

    KSA Japan Day 11: Hiroshima - Okayama - Kyoto After departing Hiroshima, we headed towards Kyoto, picking up a few sights on the way. Our first stop was the Kurashiki City Museum (former government offices) by Kenzo Tange, 1960. A massive, solid block of a building, it lacks the subtlety of...


  • KSA Japan Day 9-10: Takamatsu - Naoshima - Hiroshima

    KSA Japan Day 9-10: Takamatsu - Naoshima - Hiroshima On Day 9, we started with a quick stop at Kenzo Tange's 1958 Kagawa prefectural office building. As in other postwar modern projects in Japan, we find Tange engaging history explicitly, and searching for a synthesis of modern and traditional...


  • KSA Japan Day 8: Osaka to Awaji

    in Osaka, we took a quick look at the Open-Air Farmhouse Museum, another excellent collection off vernacular architecture from around Japan. visiting this museum/park, it's easy to see how the refined minimalism of traditional Japanese arc extrude developed. in one farmhouse, straw mats covered...


  • KSA Japan Day 7: Nara to Namba

    The morning after arriving late in Nara, we toured the historical sites in the city center. None of the temples or restored merchant houses in Nara are really "must-see" but as a dense collection of traditional architecture, it's hard to beat. the highlights here are mostly around the Todai-ji...


  • KSA Japan Day 6: Ise Shrine

    Though it was a significant detour (on the way from Yokohama to Nagoya) there was no way we could pass up visiting Ise Shrine. Ise shrine is widely lauded as the best extant example of Shinto architecture, free of the influence of Buddhism. Given the syncretic nature of Japan's traditional...


  • KSA Japan Day 4-5: Yokohama to Nagoya

    Day 4-5 Tokyo to Yokohama to Nagoya From Tokyo, we drove to the Yokohama Port Terminal, which  is looking even better than it did when I visited in 2010, as the wood decking continues to age to an ash grey. While still impressive in concept and execution, the building does now seem a bit a...


  • KSA Japan: 'grams day 4-5

    Instagram impressions, day 4-5: Tokyo and Yokohama.


  • KSA Japan Day 2-3: Tokyo

    KSA Japan Day 2-3: Tokyo The tour continues. For the past 3 days, we've been exploring the city by subway, and on foot, stopping briefly in front of  each building on the itinerary, to chat a bit about the design, the architects, and the historical context. In our curbside discussions, a...


  • KSA Japan Day 2: more Tokyo impressions.

    Day 2, Instagram impressions. More here: http://instagram.com/evandagan


  • KSA Japan Day 1: Tokyo

    Tokyo day 1. From our hotel in Akasaka, we took the subway (and a brief walk)to Meiji shrin, walked through the park to the 1964 Olympic Gymnasium, on to Shibuya Crossing (viaAtelier Bow Wow's Miyashita Park), then backtracked a bit to the luxury boutiques along Omotesando-dori (hhstyle, Gyre...


  • KSA Japan Day 0: Tokyo Impressions

    Students arrive tonight. I'll have some more thoughts on Tokyo later, but first, a few photos.... Instagram impressions from the last two days in Tokyo. 


  • KSA Japan Day (-2): Nikko

    After about 20 hours in transit (including some jet-lagged confusion on the Tobu Line out of Tokyo), I've arrived at my first stop in Japan: Nikko. The city had been cut from our official itinerary fairly early in the planning process, and I wanted to see what we'd be missing (and, I admit, ...


  • KSA Japan 2013: The Book.

      Students at the KSA are putting the final touches on the guidebook before sending the files to print. Compiled over the past three months by our team of ~30 students, this could well be the most comprehensive book of its kind ever prepared for a study-abroad tour at the Knowlton School...


  • KSA Japan 2013: The Maps.

    In December, several OSU professors and I will be leading a group of 30 students on a two-week architecture tour of Japan. With over 400 buildings on our "master list" and over 150 assigned as student research, we would obviously need some maps. On similar tours in previous years, we've used...


  • KSA Japan 2013

      ::tap:: ::tap:: is this thing on? It's been nearly five years since I graduated from OSU with my M.Arch, and though I moved away - to Rome, and then to Shanghai, then Seattle - I'm still very much connected to the school. Professor Jackie Gargus has been kind enough to invite me - again...


  • Ciao!

    So, first off sorry for the lack of posts... I've been busy. Immediately after graduation, I flew to Basel to see some old friends and check out Art Basel 40, the annual contemporary art fair (accompanied by numerous other loosely-associated fairs). After 5 days there, I flew to Berlin to begin...


  • Art | 40 | Basel

    As far as I know, I graduated, and am now the proud owner of a Master degree in Architecture from the Ohio State University. I assume, because I left the states before the graduation ceremony to come to Art Basel, the international contemporary art fair held annually in Switzerland. Conveniently...


  • Kipnis Final Exam


  • "you will receive tomorrow our official proposal"

    this job hunt stuff sure can be cryptic.....


  • Words: Exit Reviews

    Today, tomorrow and thursday are the Knowlton School of Architecture's annual Exit Reviews, in which the graduating M.Arch candidates present a powerpoint developed over the last quarter, in an attempt to unite contemporary theory with examples from recent and historical architecture, and position...


  • EXHIBITION: "MOCKUPS"

    EXHIBITION: "MOCKUPS" 05/13/2009 - 06/05/2009 Mockups is a collection of work from the past year of research focusing on the general condition of the relationship between materials and architectural scale. Less about the way things look, and more about the concept of “Something which does...


  • Re:imag(in)ing Scale - Draft #3

    At OSU, we do a kind of mini-thesis - 10 weeks to prepare a 35 minute powerpoint presentation as a summation of our graduate education. Our final drafts are due this friday. Current state of mine? 6000+ words (needs to be around 3500), 0 images organized (needs to be about 120 slides). So far...


  • Plan B.

    I got a call from my mother yesterday, for my birthday. Shockingly, their small house on St Croix (US Virgin Islands) has doubled in value in the past two years, confirming my suspicion that the Virgin Islands exist in some sort of bizzarro-world, or possibly are simply jumping through time like...


  • 25 lb. Sugar / 24 lb. Shortening / 5 c. Water / ¼ c. Vanilla

    Last quarter, my friend Casey Parthemore created this piece for visiting professor Lisa Hsieh’s seminar. This piece consists of a chair, reupholstered in cake frosting, and a lamp, its shade covered in the same. While her use of found objects immediately recalls Duchamp’s Ready-Mades...


  • A Matter of Opinion

    it's been a busy start to the quarter, but more on that later.... this coming saturday marks the KSA's criticism conference "A Matter of Opinion" - A detailed description of the event can be found here but suffice to say it's a pretty exciting lineup. If you're in town it's definitely worth...


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About this Blog

Thoughts on the M.Arch I program at the Ohio State University, 2005-2009, plus additional work with OSU as a critic and lecturer.

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