Thursday, May 24, 2012


The 21st Century Museum, located in Kanazawa, is one of the most important works designed by SANAA (Sejima and Nishikawa Architects and Associates). Using simple geometry and minimalist language, the project explores the permeability of the public space through different levels of transparency, a concept that these Pritzker awarded couple the has been exploiting through different approaches in previous works.

Facade of the museum. Source Wikipedia


The Museum of the 21st Century  (1999-2004) is located in the city of Kanazawa, in Ishikawa Prefecture, located next to the Kenrokuen, one of the most beautiful and famous gardens of Japan.

The building, inscribed in a circle of 112.5 meters in diameter, is located on an irregularly shaped park.
Some of the artworks have been installed in the park, which is an extension of the museum.


The museum's program includes meeting spaces, a reading room, library,  workshops for children, a restaurant, service and display areas. Therefore, the complex had to be both public and private, including  free access areas for the benefit of the local population, as well as other paid areas to allow the maintenance of this facility.

The challenge of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishikawa was to create a balance between these  two domains, blurring the boundaries between the public and private areas, and for that purpose they proposed a mixed-use layout, organized around four courtyards .

First floor


The interaction with the public space is such that at times the circulation themselves act as exhibition areas.

Formally, the museum is a series of boxes of different area, level of opacity and height  -which reach between 4 and 12 meters- and that are inserted into a circular glass skin, joining the external environment.

Only an opaque and eccentric cylinder appears as an anomaly in this rectangular gridiron layout, refering to the transparent encircling membrane of the museum.

In contrast, the outer cylinder is a thin, transparent border which is openly connected with the outside.

This is a deceptively simple but highly provocative design, that challenges the traditional notion of a museum flow, by offering visitors full freedom on their situatedness, their appropriation of space, defining their own route and their interaction with the building, art and environment.

In this context, some of the exhibited works collaborate to stress the phenomenological connection between the viewer, the displayed object and nature, establishing not only a relationship of passive observation but  of individual and group interaction with the art.

Photo courtesy of gravestmor

For example, Sky Blue Planet, the open-air sculpture James Turrell , in a similar work displayed in the Tadao Ando's Chichu Art Museum in Naoshima . Framing the sky, the viewer witnesses the ever-changing spectacle of the sky and the environment.

Photo courtesy of aimeesoc

Another case is Vertical Green, by Patrick Blanc , a vertical garden with over 100 varieties of plants that acts as a border in one of the courtyards and which is crossed perpendicularly by a glazed circulation.

(Sorry for the quality of photos, which were secretly taken )

One the most striking is the work of Leandro Erlich, called Swimming Pool. It was unusual to find a pool in the middle of a museum, but as one approaches, it is surprising to see people underwater. Later, upon entering the exhibit areas in the basement, you may step into the pool and see people from across the "water".

The effect is very interesting and successful, affording enthusiastic public participation. It is achieved by  putting two acrylic plates separated form each other by 30 cm, a space filled with water. Another layer of water about 10 cm thick has also been placed on top the acrylic to achieve a more realistic effect.

The museum has a special exhibit area in the basement, accessed by an elevator, a transparent box that  is raised by a cylindrical piston, both of which in turn evoke the primary forms used in the design and refer to the concepts of lightness, permeability and simplicity that are found throughout the building.

At night, the museum  emphasizes its role as urban landmark and its symbolic visual appropriation by the people of Kanazawa.

The following video shows a virtual tour throughout the Museum of  the 21st Century.


Friday, May 4, 2012




Victor Horta is the most important exponent of Art Nouveau in Belgium, the architectural and artistic movement that followed Neoclassicism and spread over Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Among his works, his house studio is known for the quality of its conceptual space and the skillfulness of its details. UNESCO, in declaring this building as a World Heritage Site, stated that "the stylistic revolution represented by these works is characterized by their open plan, the diffusion of light, and the brilliant joining of the curved lines of decoration with the structure of the building".

Horta's house-studio. Detail of the facade

The Art Nouveau Movement

With its flora motifs and natural reminiscences, the Art Nouveau movement "flourished" in Europe between 1890 and 1910. Rejecting the eclectic Historicism on the one hand and the industrial mechanicism on the other, both of which characterized the architecture of the old continent in the late nineteenth century, the Art Nouveau movement took advantage of the advances in steel architecture but refined its décor, representing elements of nature while affording both an ornamental as well as functional character. The name Art Nouveau implies a change, a rupture with the old schools of Art, and this is how it was known in France and Belgium, being called Jugendstil in Germany and Latvia, Secezion in Austria, Modernismo in Spain and Arts and Crafts in Britain.
The finest exponent of Art Nouveau in Belgium was Victor Horta, who developed several buildings in this style in Brussels, as well as other masters such as Henry van de Velde and Paul Hankar.

Victor Horta in his studio


The location of the Horta house, on the Rue Americaine 23 and 25 on the outskirts of Brussels, was due to the urban expansion experienced by the Belgian capital in the late nineteenth century, as a result of the boom that it achieved due to the shameful colonization of Congo at the hands of King Leopold II.
The properties are located in a triangular block of  narrow and elongated plots, defining a compact profile with no retreat to the street but with inner gardens in the heart of the block. The facades facing the American  St. are oriented to north, which gave them an unfavorable sun light.


The first thing that stands in the facade is the clear distinction the architect made in both the house and the studio elevation.  In both facades the proposal also raises asymmetrical compositions, in rebellion against the canons of the time However, both buildings maintain an ongoing dialogue in terms of composition, form and proportion of openings, materials and colors, and integrate themselves smoothly with other properties in the street..

Skyline of the street. Photo courtesy of Marie-Hélène Cingal

Also, both facades are covered on a blue stone finishing that extends to the sidewalk, which is made of the same material.

The studio's facade was developed in three levels, the first two more massive than the third. Taking advantage of the structural strength of steel, the architect could arrange a discontinuity between the openings of the first and second level, unlike the neighboring houses in which the space between windows and columns are repeated on every floor. The studio's last level is basically glass, framed by thin ocher-color metal columns.

The facade of the house is covered in stone, and it highlights the work done in the metal balconies,  supported by a steel beam that runs along the first level.

The quality of the details and the dialogue between the stone and metal elements that make up both facades  is remarkable, and they often conceal specific and mundane functions behind their elaborate stylistic forms.


The interior of the house studio has been modified several times and it reflects the vicissitudes of the architect's life, including his divorce and his  professional needs. In 1919 Horta separated the two buildings and sold them to different people.

The house and studio are divided into 5 levels: a basement, a ground floor, the piano nobile (or second level from the street), and the first and second floors (or third and fourth levels from the street. I make this distinction due to the difference in the numbering of the levels in different countries). These levels extend with their mezaninnes (or semi-levels) around the central staircase.

Sections of the studio and house. Drawings courtesy of Horta Museum .

Overall the house is much brighter and has warmer colors than other contemporary houses, as Horta innovated in the use of electric lighting to replace the use of gas (which was very dirty and so forced to use dark colors on the walls).

GROUND FLOOR (Left): House: 1. Parlour - Cloakroom, 2. Main staircase, 3. Cellar - Kitchen, 4. Servant´s staircase. Studio: 1. New cloakroom, 2. Bookshop. 
BEL-ÉTAGE (Right): House: 1. Music room. 2. Main staircase. 3. Dining room. 4. Salon. 5. Servant´s staircase. Studio: 1. Victor Horta's salon waiting room. 2. Victor Horta´s office.
Plans courtesy of Horta Museum

FIRST FLOOR (Left): House: 1. Salon- Cloakroom, 2. Main staircase, 3. Bedroom, 4. Bouidoir 5. Dressingroom, 6. Bathroom. 7. Servant´s staircase. Studio: 1. Library, 2. Office for museum staff. 
SECOND FLOOR (Right): House: 1. Guest-room. 2. Main staircase. 3. Simone Horta's room. 4. Winter terrace. 5.Terrace. 6. Servant´s staircase. Studio: 1.  Attic. Office for museum staff. .
Plans courtesy of Horta Museum

The house welcomes visitors in a comfortable hall located on the ground floor (as opposed to the houses of the time, which placed the kitchen near the entrance so the reception was rather a small and narrow space). Then, after walking through white marble steps, you reach the stairs, the central element of the interior space, which, in addition to serving the different floors, provides copious natural lighting inside the house, which is especially useful in the case of such an elongated plot with a unfavorable facade orientation.

The staircase is crowned by a spectacular glazed skylight, in a semi-vault form. The generous stairwell that widens from the bottom up, of light and transparent design, allows visual communication between all levels of the house, and also provides a cozy space for its inhabitants.

Horta put great effort into decorating this room, carefully designing each structural and furniture element, yet avoiding falling into Baroquism. For example, the lamps that hang from the structure and other ornaments appear to extend to infinity due to two mirrors located on the sides.

The staircase itself has a detailed functional study, that goes unnoticed behind its extraordinary formal display. The run and rise of each step is different and their ratio will change as you climb through the stair.

The piano nobile includes the music room and dining room with the staircase as a distributor and communicator space between the two sides of the building. On the stairs, the architect uses metal arches that join in a marble column, evoking Gothic architecture.

The dining room is covered with white enameled brick, a material that is simple but exquisitely worked, alternating with glass, marble, gilt metal and fine wood.

The space is generously lighted by a screen that faces the garden, reinforcing the idea of ​​contact with nature that Art Nouveau was trying to preach.

Dining room. Photo courtesy of Sigfus Sigmundson

The same contact with nature is found in Simone's bedroom, the daughter of the architect, located on the last level. Horta planned this expansion for her creating a comfortable winter garden. During the visit, that took place in March, I noted the quality of the ambient, which caught the afternoon sun and shed its heat into the neighbouring  room.


Photo courtesy of Sitomon


Coming soon...

Together with architect Natalia Barreda. It was a pleasure to meet in Brussels, dear friend.