Isolated in a solitary position in the heart of Mikata-gun forest, in the prefecture of Hyogo, on a site of great natural beauty about a three-hour drive from Osaka, the Museum of Wood was built to celebrate the National Tree Festival, which has been held every year for forty-five years since the Emperor established it following destruction of the country's forests in the second world war.
The museum is a declared homage to the huge task of reconstruction of the forest resources of which Japan is now justifiably proud, and the fact that it is constructed almost entirely out of wood demonstrates the Japanese veneration for this product of nature that underlies the country's traditional concept of what architecture is.
The building, in which Tadao Ando makes use of his previous experience with the Seville expo pavilion and uses the same materials and construction system, is shaped like a truncated cone 46 metres in diameter, containing a round hollow space with a diameter of 22 metres at its core.
At the bottom of this space is a pool of water, over which a suspended bridge of reinforced concrete lengthens the path that leads visitors into the museum from outside, taking them to an observation platform and a small cubic pavilion about 200 metres away.
The display space within the ring surrounding the central courtyard is completely closed in and contains a dense series of wooden pillars eighteen metres high, culminating in the complex structure holding up the roof. Light filters down through a narrow continuous skylight, clearly contrasting the penumbra of the interior.
As the visitor walks a route winding through the museum, among displays on the subject of wood and the forest and around the outside through the natural elements of the site and viewpoints overlooking the surrounding landscape, the experience is profound, not only educational but also emotionally laden as it is not removed from the reality of the subject under examination but takes place within in.
In this sense the building gives the impression of a temple, a place for meditation and contemplation where the "poetic" construction of space and relationships between buildings and landscape, between the manmade and the natural, in a compositional device typical of Ando's projects, acquires the timeless value of a sacred place or a "ruin" in a natural setting.
These values and meanings appear in other recent projects explicitly connected with this one, such as the Kumamoto tomb forest museum, the Awajishima water temple, the Naoshima contemporary art museum and, above all, the extraordinary chapel on the water in Tomamu on the Okkaido plateau.
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