In 2006 the Japanese town of Ota, in Gunma prefecture, appointed Kengo Kuma to build a cultural centre and museum dedicated to the famous Kanayama Castle, dating from the second half of the fifteenth century.
Tourists can perceive the imposing scale of the original construction and its historical value by simply strolling among the ruins of the old stone walls and floors of the fortress. At the foot of the site there is now a museum about the monument, which observes and translates the story of the stones to fit it into its historical and geographic context. Kuma’s architecture weaves a two-dimensional fabric of stone made up of two types of pattern, integrated and multiplied to cover all of the cement building housing the museum’s collections and hosting activities centring on the castle. The architect''s vocabulary seeks to define volumes through geometric decoration of surfaces so that the impact of the cement is minimised, because the cladding solution gives us only a fragmented view of the walls. There are two types of decorative pattern, one square and the other rectangular, scaled to ensure that a person can carry them by hand: “set” in the metal frame, the decorative stones covering the walls create a dynamic rhythm and, when extended beyond the wall as at the southern entrance, intensify the sensation of motion in the façade.This focus on detail as a part of the whole creates a mathematically defined grid through which the architect achieves complete control of the project.
Unlike certain past experiences, in which Kengo Kuma had used the decorated surface to establish a visual relationship between architecture and landscape, as an evocative screen looking outwards, in this building decoration is treated exclusively as a distinctive, symbolic element. Where it is interrupted, the walls are made entirely out of glass and the museum''s exhibition halls and laboratories face directly onto the garden or the central plaza, finished with monochrome forms and gravel.Like a climbing plant, the decoration insinuates itself inside the building, in the parapets of the stairwells and over the walls and ceilings of the rooms, where it dictates the positioning of the lights.Once again Kengo Kuma uses the strong symbols of his design to characterise a building, the consistency of which is never challenged by propagandistic excesses.
Design: Kengo Kuma & Associates
Client: Town of Ota, Gunma Prefecture
Location: Ota, Gunma (Japan)
Structural design: Oak Structural Engineering
Gross usable floor space: 1319.45 m2
Lot size: 3318.69 m2
Project start date: September 2006
Start of work: October 2007
Completion of work: May 2009
Reinforced concrete and steel structures
Photographs: ©Takeshi YAMAGISHI