Thursday, November 1, 2012



By the time I am updating this post, the Suntory Museum in Osaka is not longer open to the public. The scarce attendance and the high cost of maintenance lead to the Japanese beverage company to close this building and focus on its more popular Suntory Museum of Art, designed by Kengo Kuma in downtown Tokyo. Therefore, this post becomes a sort of posthumous homage to one of the most remarkable museums designed by Tadao Ando, where he managed to express his ideas about the relation of urban architecture and the seascape.

Tempozan is one of the most important waterfront interventions in Osaka. This complex consists of various facilities, particularly the  Osaka Aquarium by Chermayeff and the Suntory Museum by Tadao Ando, ​​which, each with a specific way, contribute to define the functional and spatial role of this area as a new cultural and recreational hub, despite being far from the city itself.

Complex at Tempozan
Images courtesy of Suntory Museum

However, despite being very close from each other, Ando's proposal has taken a very different approach to that of his American counterpart. The massive and capricious mutation of the aquarium contrasts with the geometric composition based on pure forms of the museum and the lightness of the overlapped volumes. The strident polychromy proposed by Chermayeff in the Kaiyukan, diverges from the typical monochromy and the game of light and shadows favored by Ando in the Suntory. To the introverted character of the aquarium, the museum responds by opening itself to the sea through visual design and an waterfront plaza called Mermaid Square.

The Suntory Museum and  the Aquarium Kaiyuukan
Photo by Carlos Zeballos

Aside these characteristics, this project means a lot more to Ando. It is triumph of is stubborn interest to create a public space in front of the bay, basically devoured by real estate speculation. The cultural complex commissioned by the liquor company Suntory allowed Ando try once again his favorite subject: the relationship between man, nature and architecture.

Plan layout and 3D perspective of the museum
Image courtesy of Suntory Museum

The composition of the building consists of an inverted truncated cone intersected by two prismatic volumes, the gallery and the restaurant. The impressive cone whose 48 m in diameter  major base is glazed towards the ocean and shows inside the nested  sphere of ​​the theater, as if it were a giant pearl.

Night view of the museum, showing the theater or "pearl"

The Suntory Museum was built in 1994 with a variety of materials: the great truncated cone is composed of a spatial structure covered in steel and glass, while the rest of the building is constructed of pre-stressed reinforced concrete.

The materials and technology used in this project have been carefully studied to preserve the building from wind exposure and the salinity of the environment.

View the spherical IMAX theater and restaurant 
Photo Carlos Zeballos

The museum houses art gallery, it features a 3D IMAX cinema, a number of shops and a restaurant. The first level, which is accessed via an escalator, contains a reception, shops and the entrance to the IMAX theater. The walkway that surrounds the area, as well as the lobbies that overlook the space allow to clearly  perceive the curvature of its volume.

From here and in complicity with the six-stories height cone, you can enjoy the architectural spectacle designed by Ando, ​​discover how the sun, in an ever-changing game, casts beams of light and shadow on the surface of the ball, made up of triangular concrete panels.

From the theater is possible to access to a panoramic terrace, which is in turn the roof of the restaurant.

The restaurant is divided into small semi intimate areas, at various levels, but without losing its spatial integration. It also includes extensive views into the bay. The interiors are varied but sober, using wood and warm colors.

The other is the gallery prismatic volume. In order to lighten its formal perception Ando imposes a generous, cantilever, supported by strong columns and beams in Y. The small transparent staircase and the glaze first level of this volume underscore that idea, while the cantilever reinforces its ​​relation to the sea.

Also, through the generous screen in the hall of the gallery you can enjoy panoramic views of the ocean.

In that sense, it seems that in the design of the lobby Ando disregarded a study of insolation, as the sunlight mercilessly hits this space in the afternoon, and therefore people do not usually stay long in this area, supposedly design for ​​contemplation (in summer this space is unbearable). Personally I prefer the solution  given to this problem by Arata Isozaki in its Kyoto Concert Hall, using shojis or panels to protect the room from the sunlight.

The museum rests on a meticulously designed platform: the Mermaid Plaza. This area, called Naniwa-zu in ancient times, evokes the introduction of Chinese culture to the Japanese coast. However, Ando had to fight hard with the authorities who try to impose him the construction of high protective dikes. Instead, the building has a setback, arranging a series of platforms, ramps and staircases towards the sea, creating a space for meeting and contemplation of the sunset. Also includes moving sculptures as a tribute to the wind, incorporating movement to the austere simplicity of the square.

The square, 40 x 100 m, contains an amphitheater and five monumental pillars arranged in a row, which are duplicated on top of a dike built 70 meters into the sea, reinforcing the perception of continuity between the square and the ocean.

View Mermaid Square at dusk

The relationship between nature and architecture to Tadao Ando is not limited to the context, but to the very embodiment of the landscape, in this case water, in the design of the building itself. It seems that the Japanese architect also intensely enjoys the pleasure of contemplates the sunset at the sea.

Frida Kahlo
At the time of the visit, the gallery was displaying an exhibition on  Frida Kahlo , the famous Mexican surrealist painter.

With a colorful palette, Kahlo's works convey her identity with their country and include themes of folklore and folk art in Mexico. Her thick eyebrows and her intense look are  often evident in several paintings where she portraited her love for nature as well as her suffering for her bad health she endured  for most of his life. The exhibition also included photographs of her life and even her death. Some years later, I had the chance of visiting her house studio in Mexico, that which also belonged to her lifetime love, the master Diego Rivera.
In this page you can see some photos and comments about her work.

To see a video of a walking tour inside the museum, click here. 




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