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 architecture. Here, post and beam wooden construction techniques are referenced in the concrete structure, and the setbacks at each floor seem to reference traditional pagoda construction. While we didn't get into the interior, it seems to draw a lot from Le Corbusier's work of the same period, with a open public zone on the ground floor, and the main office program elevated on piloti. Tange is said to have designed the entry garden as well, which is a serviceable version of a classical garden.
From here, we went to Risurin Garden, dating back to the 16-1700s. This was the first traditional Japanese garden we had encountered, and it certainly lived up to our expectations. The densely wooded inner garden is centered around a small lake, with winding paths carving through the forest, the paths occasionally meet the waters edge, the trees part and wide vistas are revealed. The paths and views are so carefully choreographed, there's no mistaking this for a natural landscape. The highlight here was the teahouse, which was just opening when we arrived. Several garden employees shuttled heavy wooden screens from the perimeter walkways, opening up the interior to the garden. Like many traditional Japanese homes, this tea house consisted of several tatami rooms, flanked by exterior corridors. All interior spaces were enclosed by sliding screens, and so could be reconfigured at will. Views to the garden could be framed and re-frames simply by sliding the screens. At one end of the pavilion, the perimeter corridor hangs over the lake, ostensibly for "scooping the moon" - at the opposite end, a gardener rakes the gravel into parallel lines. The plan, a zig-zag arrangement of three rectangular rooms, is a basic typology we'll see again and again (at Nijo Castle, or Katsura Imperial Villa, for example).
After Ritsurin, we took a drive, and ferry ride to Naoshima Island: a sparsely inhabited island that has essentially been turned into a island-wide art museum, with several museums by Tadao Ando and large-scale sculptures scattered around the island.
The Chichu Art Museum (Ando, 2004), is a series of underground spaces, each containing work(s) by a single artist. In one: Several of Monet's Water Lillies. Another: James Turell. The third: Walter de Maria. Another museum, nearby, features a similar progression into the hillside, and features a number of works by the artist Lee Ulfan. In each gallery space, the art is treated almost like a cult object or idol, with the space designed to enhance appreciation of the artwork within.
Both museums had byzantine entry procedures - requiring our group to split in two, and enter only at our prescribed times - and strict no-photography policies. In each gallery space, visitors were asked to remove their shoes. The whole process, from entering into the earth, as in an ancient tomb to the ritualistic route through each building, to the removal of shoes before entering each gallery space - all combined, the museum gave the impression of a sacred space. Later on, we speculated that museums have taken the place of churches and temples in contemporary society: today's pilgrims are more likely to travel to remote museums than to hilltop shrines, and works of art have replaced religious idols as targets of veneration.
(While it's tempting to read all of Ando's work as a meditation on funerary architecture and sacred space, the architect's Benessee House museum, also on Naoshima Island, doesn't really invite these comparisons.)
Departing Naoshima, we boarded the ferry at SANAA's Naoshima ferry terminal, a strikingly minimal structure that could be read as a commentary on the Yokohama Port Terminal's formal exuberance. From there, we drove on to Hiroshima.
Day 10: Free Day, Hiroshima.
In Hiroshima, we let the students run free, but recommended a few key sights. A large contingent took the train out to the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island, famous for it's "floating" torii gate and pavilions build on pilings in the shallow bay. In the afternoon, I spent a few hours wandering around the Hiroshima Peace Park, designed by Tange, a monumental axial space, organized around the view towards the A-bomb Dome, the ruins of a Meiji-era building that survived the blast half-intact, one of the few structures remaining in the city after the bombing.
The following day, we drove on to Kyoto.
Thoughts on the M.Arch I program at the Ohio State University, 2005-2009, plus additional work with OSU as a critic and lecturer.