An excellent olio of an art museum and a community center, with a unique internal organization, is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Settled in downtown Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan, the museum opened in 2004 and is one of the most famous art museums, showcasing the work of renowned contemporary artists not only from Japan but around the globe.

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The Museum Design is one of the notable and most influential works by Sejima and Nishizawa Architects and Associates (SANAA), which won a Golden Lion award at the 9th Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition in 2004. Founded by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishikawa in 1995, SANAA is widely known for its white and illuminated building style which is grounded in Japanese cultural origin. They believe that white exteriors help bring-in the playfulness and refreshing vibe.

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The second Pritzker Prize Winner in 2010, the duo (Sejima and Nishikawa) represents remarkable properties of space, lightness, transparency, and materiality to create a subtle synthesis, according to the jury. Their aim to create feelings of continuity and community in public spaces is evident through many of their works. Similarly, the museum building adapts reflective properties of glass and brightness of white to the fullest, designed in a more than modernist way.

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The museum

”The museum non imposingly settles into the urban void, with the slender, low slung disc of the roof (suspended a mere 4m from the ground) granting it a human scale,” says Joseph Grima, Editor of the book ‘Shift: SANAA and the New Museum’ 1st Edition.

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The museum in the city of Ishikawa prefecture is placed next to one of the most famous and beautiful gardens in Japan, Kenrokuen. With a circular diameter of 112.5 meters, the building is designed on an irregularly shaped park. One cannot help being amazed by the building’s visual permeability – the use of minimalistic language and simple geometry. Showing the transparency of public spaces at a different level, the museum extends into the park with some of the art installations. One can feel the blend through the glass curtain outlining the museum’s perimeter, barely noticing the transition between exterior and interior.

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The museum complex caters to both public and private activities like display areas, gathering spaces, a reading room, library, and workshop areas for children, a restaurant on the periphery, and museum spaces in the middle. There are a few free-access areas designed for the benefit of the local community, and some other areas have a paid entry to support the maintenance of the facility. The layout is composed around four-courtyards and is proposed for mixed-use of spaces, i.e. to create a balance between two-domains of public and private areas.

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The museum is a collaboration of a series of boxes that serve different purposes, with varying levels of opacity and height of about 4-12 meters. These boxes are inserted into a circular glass skin that links with external spaces. Exception in this grid-like design appears to be the opaque and eccentric cylinder in the center.

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In contrast, the outermost layer is also a thin transparent glass that blurs the boundaries of inside and outside. Let’s say that the glass curtain defining the transition is more of a conceptual line drawn rather than an edge, where the real city ends, and the imaginary city begins. The facade turns its back on no-one, engages the surroundings, and greets face-on from every route of approach and line of sight.

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The museum though seems simple but is a highly proactive design that challenges the traditional notion of a museum flow, by allowing visitors the freedom to explore the space, defining their relation and bond with the building, art, and environment. In this context, few exhibited works intrigue to stress the phenomenological connection with the viewer, the presented object, and nature, establishing not only a relationship of enduring observation but of individual and group interaction with the art. A collection of works since 1980 that propose ‘new values,’ where the artists were engaged to create site-specific installations, closely associated with the Kanazawa area.

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Amongst the marvelous artworks is the Sky Blue Planet, the open-air sculpture by James Turrell. Viewing the frame of the sky, the spectators witness the ever-changing scene of the sky and the surroundings. The Vertical Green, yet another illustration by Patrick Blanc, is a garden with a collection of around 100 species of plants that serves the edge in a courtyard with crossed perpendicular circulation.

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One of the most impressive creations called the ‘swimming pool’ by Leandro Erlich, turned out to interest and surprise the audience at most, though not usually in a museum. As one approaches, it is fascinating to see people waving into the pool – where it seems like one is standing inside the pool. This illusion is generated by filling the space between two acrylic sheets separating each other by 30 cm.

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For a more realistic look, one more layer of water is added on top. This ‘apparent’ pool is connected to the exhibit areas in the basement, and hence one can stand below the water layer for a surreal experience and see people beyond water. This part of the building has been able to engage and gain public participation enthusiastically.

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An elevator of a transparent box raised by a cylindrical piston takes you to the special exhibit areas in the basement. Here again, the primary forms used in the design come into the picture referring to the concept of lightness, simplicity, and permeability, reflected throughout the building.

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The museum is highlighted as a landmark adding up a character to urban spaces. A pleasant, appealing, and simple form of structure truly shapes the space, its art within, and the community. The museum intends to give the visitors an incredible and memorable experience, hence is a must-visit place in Japan.

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Author

Tanvi Saraf, an architect who believes that every space has a story, waiting to be narrated. Always looking to make a tiny effort to connect the dots through experiences.

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