Miho museum is designed by the legendary architect, I.M. Pei. It is humbly embedded in the mountains of Shigaraki, Japan. It covers an area of 17429 square meters of which 80 percent is underground, to blend to the majestic, beautiful natural landscape surrounding it. This building is known for its diverse collection of antiquities, and the architecture of the building itself. Leslie E. Robertson Associates had the responsibility of structural engineer in this project having great importance for the role.
I.M. Pei is a Chinese-American architect who is known for his bold modernist style in architecture. He got his bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a master’s degree from Harvard University. Unlike his other batch mates, he started to work on high-rise buildings soon after his education was complete. His initial projects for Zeckendorf represented a typical style of waffle-like concrete facades. He established his independent firm in 1960 and designed several master-pieces thereafter. Those include the Louvre pyramid, the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, and the Bank of China Tower. His last grand museum was the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. To understand the Islamic culture, Pei did a lot of research, and study-tours to Islamic architecture around the world.
He believed in the role of culture to determine the beauty in architecture. This was his philosophy in design. Through this, he perfectly blended the traditional ideas behind a very modernistic veil. According to him, a good structure should stand the test of time. He once quoted- “It is not an exaggeration to say that light is the key to architecture.” His designs are clean, sharp, and give weight-age to geometrical shapes. His style can be defined as more practical than stylistic.
In this project, he used the natural landscape available to him, to create a harmony of nature and architecture. His aim was not to disturb the natural scenic view, thus by making most of it underground, he created a building that was more of a silhouette in the mountains. The openings in the museum, the lighting effect in and out of the tunnel and the bridge, and the roofline, everything ensured exquisite use of natural light.
Mihoko Komaya, leader of the religious group, Shinji Shumeikai, was the client. She needed this museum to showcase her collection of various artifacts she had spent decades on. The museum has antiquities from Asia, Africa, and Europe. The affordability and freedom of design to the architect, led to such a good outcome. Komaya let I.M. Pei followed his concept and so, he came up with the idea of Shangri-La, which was readily accepted by the client.
The concept of the design is derived from the ancient peach-blossom tale, written by Tao Yuanming. There was once a fisherman, who was rowing up a mountain stream. He reached a beautiful peach orchard and saw a ray of light coming from a cave. He entered the cave and found a narrow road, following which he reached the heavenly view of Shangri-La. This is exactly the inspiration for the planning of the museum.
The entry to the museum starts from the reception pavilion which has a restaurant and a library. There is a slightly sloping path sandwiched between rows of cherry trees. It leads to a dim-tunnel carved out of the mountain, followed by a suspension bridge that finally leads to the museum. This stainless-steel bridge has its tensors seeming to emerge from a point, like rays of the sun at sunrise. The similarities between the concept and its execution are brilliant. The museum houses more decorative details at specific points in the museum which represent Japanese culture too. The design of the museum is borrowed from the ornate temples around Kyoto.
Though not copied, the exterior resembles the traditional Japanese structures, which seem to bring out a calm, spiritual feel. The stairway at the entrance gives the experience of stepping in a Buddhist temple. Upon entering, one is welcomed by the traditional roof of Minka, a typical Japanese farmhouse. The arrangement of rooms and lighting are wisely used to bring out the delicacy of Japanese houses. The finishing is precise and adjusts to the natural elements. Pei used the principle of Shakkei, or ‘borrowed landscape’ in the main hall, to bring the scenic views inside the room. To soften the effect of a double heightened room, he added balconies and trees in the corridor.
The materials and colors used are warm and harmonious. The heavy metallic structures and concrete finishes are contrasted by the tender tone of French beige limestone. To give a wooden blend, the aluminum blinds are painted sepia. The building has sloped-glass roofing sitting on a silver space frame structure, giving a warm sunbath of light. This gives the interiors two different shades, the honey-colored one, and the silver-grey tone of frame and exhibition halls. The halls are adorned by fascinating hexagonal frames as ceilings.
For bringing out the beauty of the concept, the tunnel was given much attention. Drilling through the mountain and connecting to a highway nearby, was a challenge that the team was ready for. The tunnel saw its beauty by black exterior and the silver wall interior, specifically made to reflect the trees in their green and pink, changing with seasons. Each sheet was placed at a particular angle for special light and sound effects. The glass roof and the supporting framework too, had to undergo many changes, as the architect compromised to make no change of plan.
Pei wove this striking structure into a single theme and left no stone unturned to make this serene sculpture calmly fade among the range of mountains.