Towada Art Centre

Towada Art Centre, Towada - Japan, Ryue Nishizawa
Construction year: 2008
Address: Nishi Nibancho 10-9 | TOWADA | | Visit Website
Latitude/Longitude: 40.6139761, 141.2093331

Comprising 16 freestanding pavilions, set in a loose and apparently haphazard arrangement, Towada Art Centre brings a new micro-urbanism to this small Japanese town in the north of Honshu island. Situated on a crossroads of the town’s central avenue, the centre forms part of Arts Towada Project, a neglected part of town. Nothing about this ungainly arrangement can be mapping out the orientation of white masses, he has produced a decidedly unbalanced plan with no rhythm, order or axis. This, of course, is of little consequence to the architect, who describes the buildings as ‘a study in how we can create density, in a good way’ focusing as much on the space between the pavilions as on the structures themselves.

The site ‘is not super-big’, he adds. Despite this, 2,000m (2) of accommodation is distributed across the 100 x 45m site. Nishizawa’s interpretation of density, therefore, is more accurately understood as a three-dimensional reality, as the volumes (built in a corrugated steel plate) create a close-knit cityscape-like assemblage that builds up around the tallest pavilion, housing the central stair core, which assumes the securalised role of the church steeple (a curiously non-Japanese tradition).

Much of the architect’s original concept endures, namely ‘different pavilions connected by the open glass corridor’. This glass corridor is the principal means of controlled circulation, connecting chains of pavilions in three circuits and defining four inner courtyards. The irregular-shaped gardens create spaces for sensitive works of art, such as Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree and Shin Morikita’s Flying Man and Hunter. This in contrast to the residual spaces around the sit’s perimeter, more accessible to passers-by, where larger, more robust public works are arranged, such as Noboru Tsubaki’s giant red ant, aTTa. Internally, the glazed cirecuit allows curators to control and divide visitor access between the permanent works, three exhibition galleries and the community spaces, which include a cafe, shop, and activity space.

Despite creating a bespoke fit for the first collection of artworks, when asked how flexible the arrangement would be for future adaption, Nishizawa is optimistic. ‘I hope the building will attract interpretation,’ he says, before going on to describe how ‘each pavilion appears as a kind of independent building; like a showroom from the street side’. Of course, the inverse is also true, when visitors inside view the art against Towada’s new and old townscapes. As such, Nishizawa’s first major public building is a great success, translating the tense relationship between inside and out, thereby giving visitors the best of both worlds: ‘experiencing art and city at the same time’.

⇒ Architecture Guide to TOWADA
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