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Architecture

The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura

The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura was located in the precincts of the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in the city of Kamakura. Built next to Heike Pond as if extending out over the water, the building's light and airy form seems to float on the surface of the pond. The Museum also affords visitors a view of the luxuriant nature surrounding the building, which undergoes a rainbow of changes with the seasons.

Architects, SAKAKURA Junzo and Le Corbusier

Japan Pavilion at Paris Expo 1937

Japan Pavilion at Paris Expo 1937

The architect who designed the building was Junzo Sakakura (1901-1969) , who had studied under Le Corbusier, the great master of modern architecture, from 1931 to 1939. Prior to World War II, Sakakura designed the celebrated Japanese Pavilion for the Paris World Exposition of 1937. Built on a slope in the Jardin du Trocadeo in Paris, the building was awarded the grand prize in the Exposition's architecture section. It was the first work by a Japanese architect to be recognized on the international stage.

First public museum of modern art, in Japan

The building of Kamakura

The building of Kamakura Museum in 1951

The original building of the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura, which was completed in 1951, is a two-story, steel framed structure with a total floor space of 1,575m2. It may be modest in size by today's standards, but the competition held to decide its design was a major event for the Japanese architectural community in the immediate postwar era. Five energetic architects, all in their prime, participated in the competition: in addition to Sakakura, they were Kunio Maekawa, Junzo Yoshimura, Yoshiro Taniguchi, and Toshio Yamashita.

"Museum of unlimited growth"

The building has galleries, as well as spaces for other functions, organized around a square courtyard. Sakakura's original competition design also included plans to add more galleries and a hall to the east and west on the second floor. He had based this design on his teacher Le Corbusier's "Museum of unlimited growth" concept, published in 1939.

Japanese architectural tradition harmonized with Modernism

1st floor: Sculpture Gallery

1st floor: Sculpture Gallery

Also in keeping with a system proposed by Le Corbusier for domestic architecture in the 1920s, Sakakura placed the main parts of the building on the second floor, supported by a series of columns called pilotis. At the same time, Sakakura built on his experience of designing the Japanese Pavilion for the Paris World Exposition. This can be seen in such aspects of the Kamakura building as

  1. the clarity of the plan design,
  2. the clarity of the structure,
  3. the respect for the natural beauty of the materials, and
  4. the harmony achieved with the nature (environment)surrounding the building.
In particular, in his emphasis of harmonizing the building with its natural environment, Sakakura drew upon his research of the intimate relationship between building and garden in traditional Japanese architecture. His use of Japanese Oya stone in the ground floor of the original building also demonstrates his awareness of the uniquely Japanese architectural tradition.

View through the entrance facade

View through the entrance facade

View through the south west terrace from the west

View through the south west terrace from the west

The building of the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura brought together the traditional and the modern, as well as the artistic organization of space and the enthusiastic use of new technology and materials. It reflected the level of excellence that Japanese Modernist architecture had attained by 1951. It also represented the magnificent crystallization of the ideas and ideals of architecture and art that Junzo Sakakura had nurtured through the 1930s and 1940s.

Aged but New

Today, many changes have been made to the original design. For example, the natural lighting originally used in the galleries has been changed to artificial lighting, and an extra room has been added at the entrance to the galleries to guard against the wind. Even so, visitors can still sense the experimental and innovative nature of Sakakura's design. The building's modest scale also reflects the youthful hopes of a country striving to be reborn as a cultural state, out of the chaos of its defeat in World War II.

Construction data

Site area
4,243.12m2
Total floor space (original building)
1,575m2
Galleries (original building)
449.92m2
Sculpture Gallery
195.52m2
Structure
Steel framed reinforced concrete construction
Number of stories
2 stories above ground
Architect
Junzo Sakakura
General Constructor (original building)
Mabuchi Kensetsu Inc.
Completion (original building)
November 1951

Floor Guide (As of 2016)

1F

Quadrangle

Quadrangle

The inner garden is surrounded by a building in style of a corridor. It gives a square view of the sky when one stands in the middle of the garden. In the center lies "Kokeshis (Japanese wooden dolls)" by Isamu Noguchi and other works such as "Work-55" by Kentaro Kimura.

Sculpture Gallery

Sculpture Gallery

Oya stone and glass partitions off this semi open air space. Artworks fitting to the ongoing exhibition are usually exhibited. Passing from interior to exterior, visitors may appreciate the work and its environment.

Terrace

Terrace

The terrace facing the pond is one of the best location of the KAMAKURA building to admire the view. From the rainy season to summer, lotus flowers in the pond and in autumn, the Japanese wax tree and gingko colors. The pond is the habitat for birds like kingfishers and herons.

2F

Gallery

Gallery

The gallery space consist of gallery 1, which is in the form of an "L" and gallery 2, which is small and square. It is not spacious but the characteristic shape of the gallery space and the artworks exposed alters the effect of the exhibition every time.

Cafe (external site)

Cafe

KAMAKURA building was designed to resemble a salon, a place where visitors may converse, hence the placement of the cafe where one can admire plainly the Heike pond. The grand terrace offers an exceptional moment in the "Kamakura Museum" experience where visitors may appreciate the beauty of each season.

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