The Grand Seiko Vision of the Beauty of Time

Vol.2Interplay of light and
shadow that resonates
with the architecture
of Tadao Ando

The changing seasons
and nature blend
in with the beautiful architecture

“Unseen architecture”
in harmony with nature

Sunlight streaming through the arch latticework of the Arcade at the Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori Public University, casts lovely shadows. It could be said that through this ingenious embrace of the natural surroundings, this approach celebrates the symbiosis of architecture and the environment.

The earth rotates with its axis tilted 23.4 degrees from the plane of its orbit around the sun. Because of this tilt, the angle of sunlight changes, creating the four seasons. Notably, at about 35 degrees north latitude, where Japan is located, the position of the sun is completely different in the summer and winter, resulting in clearly distinct seasons and changes in light. The Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori Public University, which opened in Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture, in 2001, deftly incorporates this change of seasons and the interplay of light and shadow in its architectural design.

The unique manner in which this is done is evident even before you reach the main building, the Exhibition Hall. In response to the request by the client, Aomori City, to preserve the trees to all possible extent, architect Tadao Ando proposed the concept of “unseen architecture” in which the buildings are in symbiosis with the natural environment. This vision is first sensed in the Arcade. In this approach from the main road, you walk toward the Exhibition Hall within the exquisite shadows created by sunlight filtering through a latticed arch made of laminated timber. From there you can take in the view of the expansive forest and feel the flow of time, and the eternity of time, from the contrast of light and shadow and the changing greenery.

A special space
that appeals to the senses

The Exhibition Hall has facilities such as the Water Terrace, which reflects the structure, and the amphitheater-shaped Open Theater. The building was designed to stand lower than the surrounding trees for a truly “unseen architecture.”

After passing through the Arcade, you come upon the Exhibition Hall that stands as if buried among the surrounding trees. The “unseen architecture” envisioned by Ando intended to make the building a part of the forest. People have lived in this area since the ancient Jomon Period, and the rural landscape that remains is the home of many various wildlife. To preserve this environment, the less forested areas were selected as building sites and the facilities were laid out to be encompassed by the surrounding greenery so that the architecture harmonizes with the natural environs and reaps its benefits.

The Exhibition Hall takes on a circular form. Outdoor facilities such as the Water Terrace and Open Theater, make up about half of the space. The spacious grounds showcase the many outdoor sculptures by artists from within and outside Japan as a permanent exhibition, allowing visitors to enjoy an art stroll while surrounded by rich nature. The atmosphere changes when entering the two galleries inside. The huge horseshoe-shaped exhibition space with its gentle curve, is designed to be lighted from one side. There is little doubt that this difference in spaces for exhibition brought about by two different light sources—open and closed—stimulates the creative ambitions of the artists and the sensibilities of those who see it.

Sending out art
that stimulates creativity

Eaves over 100 meters long and evenly spaced pillars make up the terrace of the Creative Hall. Nearby is the Residential Hall, which is the lodgings for invited artists.

The key program of the Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori Public University, is the Artist in Residence Program, in which artists from Japan and abroad stay for a certain amount of time to engage in creative activities. Aomori Prefecture has a reputation for producing many superb artists including woodblock print artist Shiko Munakata, and poet and dramatist Shuji Terayama. Thinking that the harsh environment of this region, such as its snowstorms, gave them time for self-contemplation, Ando designed the Creative Hall, a building over 100 meters long built like a bridge over a creek. It is a concrete atelier with a minimal design composed of planes. The steadily changing expression of the forest greenery catches your eye from the large windows facing the terrace. This architecture as well takes in nature within the passage of time.

This art center aims to cultivate a local art culture through interactions between artists and citizens. Artists gather here and engage in creative activities by embracing themselves within the workings of nature and the flow of light and shadow. When thinking about places where one can come in contact with art, people tend to envision museums where collections are exhibited, but this is a place where art, including human connections, is created.