This is a cool, tall and densely urban city. Lots of cyclists everywhere, which is normal in Japan, but to see two mothers carrying between them four small children seemed remarkable.
I went to a lecture by Sustrans in London a while ago where the director of the cycling charity described seeing children and elderly people pedalling as a kind of ‘indicator species’ showing that cycling was becoming normalised and a safe way to travel. In troubled natural ecosystems ecologists look for plants, insects and bird life as signs of rejuvenation. Similarly Sustrans look for cyclists who are outside the fashion for sports driven biking but have adopted it as a safe and acceptable mode of everyday transport.
Japan’s cycling ecosystem is clearly thriving. Cyclists are directed to ride on the pavements shared with pedestrians. There are bespoke tunnels cut through mountains on islands off Honshu to make safe cycle routes. Forget the Dutch and Danish models of cycling infrastructure, come and ride Japan’s!
The Tado Ando Museum on Naoshima is one of several buildings the architect has constructed on the island. This small building consisting of three refurbished Manka Houses which conceal inside a concrete structure of walls, stairways and openings descending to a tilted conical basement vault, lit from the courtyard skylight above. Inside all his buildings you’re not allowed to take photographs and here was no exception.
The architecture is stunning with the use of natural daylight to reveal the planes and curves of the precisely detailed concrete walls and floors within. These grey structures contrast with the wooden construction of the roof which is revealed above, traditionally detailed and rhythmically articulated through the beams, joists and planks of dark seasoned timber.
We then visited the Chichu Art Museum, again a building by Ando, which houses installations by James Turrell and Walter De Maria and 5 huge Claude Monet water lilly paintings. The museum is spectacular and is a temple to the three artists it houses. The spatial sequences, the changes in level, the courtyards and sky views from the buried structures you enter are like no other building I’ve been to. It reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. The staff all wear white uniforms and silently watch the controlled number of museum visitors. The spaces with the artwork are so charged by their entrance sequences, from low dark concrete corridors to massive tall lit volumes that the few pieces of art on display have a power and resonance similar to temple or church iconography, a little like the black rectangular monlith of Kubrick’s film. It’s as if you’re seeing the work for the first time, have discovered it, like an ancient artefact buried and lost through the ages, because the building so successfully recontextualises the works.