My Architecture Island Pilgrimage

Since my first year at Architecture School I have been obsessed with the work of Tadao Ando.  He is a Japanese self-taught architect whose approach to architecture would most commonly be described as critical regionalism.

“The stylings of critical regionalism seek to provide an architecture rooted in the modern tradition, but tied to geographical and cultural context.”     –

Therefore it was always my dream to go to Japan and see the work in the context of which he is most familiar – Naoshima is the place to go!

Naoshima is an island in the Seto Inland Sea (closest to more well known Okayama).  This pilgrimage did not come easy, we got up at 4am in Hiroshima – took a taxi to Hiroshima Station – took a Shinkansen (super fast train) to Okayama – took a local land train to Uno Port – took a ferry to Naoshima – hired bicycles to tour the island (no gears = very tired legs) – returned the bicycles at the port – took a ferry back to Uno Port – local train to Okayama – and then made the silliest of mistakes by catching one of the last Shinkansens to Tokyo on a Sunday evening (we got seats but many people stood for the 3.5hour trip).  But this exhaustive travel plan was so worth it.

The island is an art and architecture treat, set within a rural town surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches and misty mountain landscapes in the distance.  Much of the art and museums were installed by the Benesse Corporation and Benesse’s museums were designed by Tadao Ando.  These include the Chichu Art Museum, Lee Ufan Museum, Tadao Ando Museum (traditional house from the outside, Tadao Ando design genius on the inside) and all the buildings of the Benesse House.  The Benesse House is part art museum/part hotel.  The Benesse Hotel is definitely on my overnight stay list for the next time I visit Japan in the warmer months.  The municipal buildings and schools were designed by Kazuhiro Ishii.

The Architecture of Tadao Ando is said to create a ‘haiku’ effect, which is the emphasizing of nothing and using empty space to represent the beauty in simplicity.  I always feel so juxtaposed in and around his buildings.  His favoured material is exposed concrete which is solid and hard; and yet I feel so much peace and weightlessness in his architecture.  His buildings are a physical experience and somehow sensuous.  He takes you through dark passages in order to experience unexpected rays of sunshine.  He is the master of utilizing natural light.  The detailing is perfection, concrete/water/glass/metal touch each other so very lightly. He uses conflicting geometry, simple in shape but then combines them and scales them in unexpected ways.  I can only show you photos and images in an effort to illustrate Tadao Ando’s architecture but experiencing it in person is the only way to feel it. 

Just one of the imaginative art installations that is forever burned in my heart is a work by Jennifer Bartlett called “Yellow and Black Boats”.  Through a large window one looks out onto the beach in the distance sees two boats, this view is reflected back to a painting opposite the window and in front of it two more boats are installed on the museum floor.  This might sound simple but this “boat inception” is just so special.  The architectural detailing of the window, beautiful view, exposed concrete backdrop to the painting, the painting itself and walking in and around the installation is so very clever and context specific. This piece of artwork in particular, while not as ‘hard’ as the architecture of Tadao Ando, has a feeling of being rooted in the stylings of Critical Regionalism and has a definite simplicity in its creation.

Another surprising highlight is the iconic well positioned Pop Art of Yayoi Kusama – and in particular her Yellow Pumpkin.  Just google her work, it is crazy and wonderful, just like the artist herself.  My Yellow Pumpkin mousepad sits next to my laptop everyday and is a constant reminder of our visit. Her museum in Tokyo is on our travel list for December 2018.

I could write on for days about the architecture and modern art within the museums – inspired and in awe – but you really just need to go, go tomorrow!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *