Thursday, January 28, 2010



The Kyoto Concert Hall is adjacent to Tadao Ando's Garden of Fine Arts. The Kyoto Concert Hall was designed by another internationally renowned Japanese figure, Arata Isozaki.

Isozaki, (1931 -) was a disciple of Kenzo Tange, a prestigious master of architecture in the 60s. Arata Isozaki has designed buildings in Asia, Europe and America, and has been a visiting professor at numerous universities, including Harvard, Columbia and Yale. His work skillfully combines the sensibility of traditional Japanese architecture with Western postmodernism, innovating in the use and juxtaposition of materials, using eclectic details and blending elements of the past with technologically sophisticated details.

The Kyoto Concert Hall is an example of his professional expertise. It is a 5-story building, planned to commemorate the 1200 anniversary of the founding of Kyoto city, opened in 1995 and since then dedicated to the dissemination of classical music, either instumental or choral.

Photo courtesy of D'Arne & Ming

The building houses two concert halls. The Main Hall, has a capacity of 1833 seats and the small hexagonal ensemble -designed for small concerts- contains 500 seats. In addition, it contains offices and large and spacious waiting rooms.

Isozaki faces the difficult task of achieving a harmonious fusion between past and present, in a city of rich historical heritage such as Kyoto. However, he does not literally copy traditional Japanese elements from the past, nor impose a strange Western architecture.

Plants of the Concert Hall

As Paul Goldberger,a critic from the New York Times, mentioned:
"the real fusion is not between cultures but between eras, between the acceptance of forms transmitted to us and those to come."

Isozaki's scheme, courtesy

Isozaki's proposal combines both styles in a series of volumes, in which the massive orthogonal concert hall is screened by the graceful arrange of curved glass screens. Their winding silhouettes result in the building's main facade, whose setback from the street creates an atrium that allows a better observation of the venue.

It is noteworthy that the building is not entered from the main facade, but from the side. As Isozaki himself recalls,

"I made the approach complex and difficult to understand spatially... the way the Hall is long, bending in various ways and then spiralling upwards. the approach to a temple in Kyoto is never straight. It bends and turns. That is the technique used to make a small place seem more extensive. I use that technique three-dimensionally, not two-dimensionally. "

At the corner, a stunning sheer volume of conical shape is placed surrounded by clear, calm water. In its first floor the cone houses a French food restaurant (I do not recommend the Japanese style crepes), which can be accessed by a bridge over the water, designed by Isozaki as a remembrance to Japan's tradition. A few blocks of natural stone limit the pool, whose rough surface contrasts with the fine finishing details of the structure.

But the main function of this great black drum is hosting the Ensemble and the ramps that lead to higher areas. Frank L. Wright had a similar idea at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and Richard Meier did the same in his High Museum in Atlanta: both developed their circulations as helical ramps that allow the access to the various levels.
At the core of the black drum, the helicoid houses a geometric interior design. Its walls are not vertical, but tilted in the opposite direction to the generatrix of the cone, containing a series of twelve columns that evoke the Zodiac signs, symbols of ancient astrology. Its ceiling is a triangular net of cambered beams, while the design of the floor creates an optical illusion reminiscent of Escher's impossible perspectives.

There are large foyers, a prelude to the main hall and the Ensemble, ideal for post-concert gatherings. Here, Isozaki locates a series of suspended translucent glass partitions that protect the interior from the direct sunlight without interfering with its spectacular view of the nearby botanical garden and evoke the shoji or traditional Japanese screen made of paper and wood.

The main concert hall is a rectangular box, such as the one in the theaters in Boston or Vienna.

This space is the most exquisite one in the building, every detail in his wooden interior has been taken into account to provide comfort, lighting, acoustics during the performances.

It is sober, precise, and serene as a Japanese temple. The interior hosts an impressive organ of over 7000 tubes, which is the visual spot, perpendicular to the room's longitudinal axis.
The hexagonal Ensemble is designed for small concerts or chamber music and can accommodate 500 spectators.The entire lighting system is mounted on a triangular grid, arranged within an metallic ellipse, which Isozaki called a "stellar constellation", and it appears to float as a spacecraft on top of the stage.

Here, in brief, polyphonic chorus will execute the soft notes of a traditional Japanese song. In time, the notes of a Strauss minuet coming from the flutes will float among the fine wooden lattice slats, which so delicately and graciously adorn the lower part of the room.


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